CIRS Blog about Rural California

Napa and Sonoma counties were affected by wildfires in October 2017 spread by very high winds. Over 4,700 homes were destroyed, including 3,000 in Santa Rosa, and 10,000 were damaged; 43 people died and 100,000 people were displaced by the fires. Insured losses are over $7.5 billion, making the October 2017 fires the most costly in U.S. history.

 

With an unemployment rate of less than three percent in a county adding jobs faster than homes, median home prices in Sonoma County topped $650,000 in November 2017.

 

The fires were likely caused by sparking power lines downed by winds that gusted to more than 70 mph. The 2017 wine grape harvest was almost completed when the fires broke out, so speculation centered on the longer-term effects of the fires on wineries and their workers, some of whom lost both wages and their housing.

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California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) http://www.crla.org/ created Rural Justice Forums in response to a need for further evidence and literature to support many of the issues CRLA staff witness in the field every day. CRLA attorney, Ilene Jacobs, Director of Litigation, Advocacy and Training, saw a lack of research and analysis of an underlying problem demonstrated by her cases:  that living in some of the worst housing conditions in the United States has a severe impact on the physical and mental health of California farmworkers.

“Farmworkers and their families in rural California and throughout this country often are forced to live in the most despicable and challenging conditions. They sleep in onion fields, live in caves dug into canyons bathe in irrigation ditches, huddle under tarps or find refuge in cars, tool sheds, barns and in river banks, face rent gouging for substandard and dangerous housing units, rent rooms, in dilapidated old motels, face housing discrimination because of who they are, what they look like or they language they speak, and suffer retaliatory eviction and firing should they have the temerity to complain about such third world conditions in the richest nation in the world.”

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 100 California communities -- and more than 900 communities across the nation -- will lose their eligibility for USDA rural housing programs on October 1, 2012. Of the 97 California communities that will be impacted, 64 are cities and 33 are census-designated places in unincorporated areas. These communities are scattered throughout the state, but more than half (50) are located in the San Joaquin Valley (31) and Inland Empire (19). Not coincidentally, these two regions have been major magnets for population growth over the last several decades. A current list of communities can be accessed at http://ruralhousingcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/USDA-List-of-Impacted-Communities_06272012.pdf. The USDA could release a final list as early as August.

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