Housing: Already tight market compounded

Before the Camp Fire hit on Nov. 8, Chico already was experiencing a shortage of housing options, particularly for those in the lower income brackets. A vacancy rate of 1 percent to 2 percent, as the CN&R reported a year and a half prior, was already inadequate. All of a sudden, the scarce available housing stock was needed by people not wanting to relocate—but needing a place to live.

“On the day of the fire, there were roughly 225 homes for sale in Chico,” local real estate agent Brandi Laffins told the CN&R. “Within 10 to 14 days, that number dropped to 50. It was a frenzy. … The drastic decrease of inventory and the rise in home values concerned many, including the local realtors. Finding a home for those who had lost [theirs] seemed impossible.”

Now, six months later, things aren’t much better in Chico’s housing market. While the frenzy, as Laffins called it, may have subsided, the pickings are still slim. And the average price has risen dramatically and disproportionately to the rest of the California: Statewide, sales prices are down 6.3 percent over last year, but in Chico, they’re up 13 percent, according to Zillow, said Laffins, president of the Sierra North Valley Realtors group.

“The average home price in California is $565,000 and the supply is 3.6 months of inventory,” she said, “while Chico’s average price is $365,200 and inventory supply is less than one month.” For comparison, in 2016, the average Chico home sold for $310,000 (see “Squeezed out,” cover story, March 9, 2017).

It’s not just the real estate market that’s been affected, either. While rental prices are somewhat protected by anti-price-gouging laws (Chico extended its for one year after the fire) that prohibit increases of more than 10 percent, many landlords are simply selling. Some were themselves displaced by the Camp Fire; others are taking advantage of the seller’s market. For that reason, even Chico renters are finding themselves suddenly in search of housing.

“There are vacancies out there, but they turn quickly and it is a bit of a search to find them in a timely manner,” said Jennifer Morris, executive director of the North Valley Property Owners Association, which launched campfirehousing.org following the fire to connect property owners with those searching for a place to live.

With little additional housing currently under construction, the problem is sure to continue.

“My gut says we will have a housing shortage for a few years to come,” Laffins said.