Council deserves kudos for renter relief

This newspaper’s first issue after the Camp Fire featured a dozen stories about the deadly blaze and its effects. We could see from the outset of the disaster that it would have devastating long-range consequences for so many aspects of life as we knew it in Butte County, including our local housing stock.

Initially, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 residents were displaced. However, it immediately became clear that tens of thousands of them would need permanent housing and that the majority were hoping to live in Chico (see “Demand outweighs supply,” Nov. 15).

The problem: Butte County’s most populous municipality for years has struggled with a housing shortage—low single-digit vacancy rates in both the rental and sales markets. There simply weren’t enough available units to house everyone. Then, the nearby communities filled up. As a result, many people had no choice but to move out of the area—to other counties and even out of state.

And then, a second wave of displacement struck. As we chronicled about a month after the fire (see “Squeezed out,” Dec. 13), landlords began cashing in on the disaster by forcing out tenants and selling their in-demand properties for inflated prices to desperate evacuees flush with insurance funds. In some cases, those folks paid $20,000-$30,000 or more above list price. As the CN&R put it in an editorial that week, after hearing from one renter after another about being served eviction notices, we were witnessing a “ripple effect of unmitigated selfishness.” As we noted, it resulted in the displacement of families, many with children who would not only suffer the loss of a stable home but also their school and friends. Yet another effect: a disruption to the region’s workforce, as employees left the region.

Last week, the Chico City Council began the process of implementing policy to help impede this scenario for the next six months (see Ashiah Scharaga’s report on page 10). The pending emergency ordinance calls for landlords to give renters extra time beyond state requirements to vacate their properties. The idea is that the market will stabilize by then—housing prices will recede to pre-disaster levels, reducing the financial incentive to sell rentals.

We certainly wish the council had implemented the law sooner, when it was first discussed back in February. However, we applaud the panel—in its entirety, as both sides of the political aisle voted aye—for taking this bold and much-needed step to address the issue.