Time to prioritize temporary housing

It’s been nearly three months since the Camp Fire torched a significant portion of Butte County, destroying thousands of homes and displacing tens of thousands of residents, and yet the most significant commitment in terms of making room for temporary housing units has come from the city of Gridley.

That farming town about 30 miles south of Chico is the second-smallest municipality in the county. Its population is roughly 6,700. Yet, a few weeks ago, city leaders unanimously voted to move forward on a plan to lease just over 72 acres of city-owned land to the federal government. There, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plans to place hundreds of modular homes for qualified displaced residents.

Of course, we’re not talking about charity here. Gridley is poised to rake in about $1.6 million from the federal government annually. The lease of the property—at a city-owned industrial park—is expected to be in place for a year or two. Though temporary, the FEMA units will give Camp Fire evacuees a much-needed place of their own.

Our question: Why hasn’t Chico found a similar way to aid our neighbors from fire-charred areas? For one, we’re much closer to the Ridge and the surrounding foothills. Many displaced residents work here and are unable to secure any type of housing in our ultra-tight market. Helping them is not only the neighborly thing to do, but also would help preserve Chico’s workforce.

In a letter to the editor this week, a member of the Chico City Council suggests that the public should question local developers about the holdup. While it’s true that builders and landowners ought to step up, that sounds like a cop-out. We’re not convinced that the council has explored its options, including for city-owned land. We’d like to see a more thorough discussion at the dais on this front.

Chico’s elected leaders aren’t the only ones on the hook here. The county Board of Supervisors, especially the Ridge representative and those newly elected to represent Chico, also must prioritize discussions on additional temporary housing locations.

This is an urgent situation. We learned this week that FEMA won’t allow residents to live on their properties until they are deemed clean, a complication that will result in an unanticipated need for additional local temporary housing facilities (see page 10). The debris removal process is underway, so time is of the essence.