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How natural disasters, home prices contribute to homelessness

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Posted at 10:51 AM, Jul 08, 2022

It isn't often Tammy Huerta goes back to the day that her life changed forever.

"The morning of November 8th, 2018,” she reads off her phone.

It's a story of how she escaped the Camp Fire, which destroyed her hometown of Paradise, California.

“I told God I don’t want to die like this, and I don’t want this to be my last day on earth," she says.

Not only does Huerta want people to know how she survived but how she, and many others who were displaced nearly four years ago, are still struggling today.

“People that are still without housing, we need help," Huerta says.

She now lives in Chico, which is about 20 minutes from Paradise. The fire took almost everything she owned.

As a house cleaner, she says she can’t afford to buy or rent her own place.

The median price for a home in the area is $484,000.

The average one-bedroom apartment rents for more than $1,500 a month.

“So the people still needing help now are the ones that didn't have the insurance. They were renters, typically. If they were homeowners, they were underinsured. They didn't have insurance to rebuild." says Jesica Giannola, who is helping Huerta through the nonprofit Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT).

She says she has more than 300 applications from Camp Fire survivors who can't find a permanent place to live.

“We need rent lowered so we can get into a place and get back on our feet again working and bringing in more income," Huerta says.

The impact of natural disasters on housing isn’t just a problem in Northern California. According to CoreLogic, one in ten homes across the country were impacted by a natural disaster in 2021.

Displacement isn’t an easy problem to fix. In May, North Carolina announced $16 million in grants to help those still feeling the impact of 2018’s Hurricane Florence and 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

In Chico, Giannola says affordable housing was an issue before 2018. However, she says the situation is different now, as she's helping people who were never on the path to homelessness before the fire.

“These people’s lives and their professions— the things they’ve done, the people they’ve helped, and they’re left with nothing," she says.

Huerta is currently sharing a home CHAT owns with other Camp Fire survivors.

“I want to get back into Paradise. That's my home that's my heart," she says of her hopes for the future.

But with the typical home price in Paradise almost $70,000 more today than it was before the fire, it may be too expensive for her to ever go home.