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One week since the deadly Camp Fire began, a new kind of crisis has ignited.
With thousands still displaced and nearly 10,000 family homes destroyed, the question now is: Where does everyone go?
“If you went on Craigslist right now, there is nothing,” Ed Mayer, the Executive Director of the Butte County Housing Authority, said. “Absolutely nothing.”
Like most of California, Butte County already had a housing shortage. According to Mayer, the vacancy rate for rentals is between one and two and a half percent. With so many now displaced, he said some people may have no choice but to go.
“We’ve seen a whole community in Paradise, 95 percent destroyed,” Mayer said. “Some 10 to 13 percent of our county is gone, but we still have the households and families living here.”
Mayer estimates Butte County can absorb between 800 and 1,200 people, which would leave thousands still without permanent housing.
“We’re on the edge of a humanitarian crisis,” he said. “We don’t have people sick and dying right now. But we have folks living in a very vulnerable position and could become sick and die.’
Those who will feel the impact of the housing crisis the most, the evacuees camping out just across the street from Mayer’s office in the Walmart parking lot.
Matthew Flanagan evacuated his home in Paradise and has been at the Walmart in Chico — which he’s dubbed “Wallyhood” — ever since. He said leaving Butte County isn’t going to be an option and that he hopes to find a rental he can share with the friends he’s made during the evacuation. That idea is one many may need to adopt.
“The vision is very important,” Mayer explained to Flanagan. “We can take under-utilized houses and house folks like yourself willing to live together like a family.”
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