Three years ago, Pamela Lack thought she had found the home she was going to retire in.
Surrounded by old cedar trees and large heritage oaks, the three-bedroom home in Paradise, California, had a backyard for her grandchildren and a guesthouse for her elderly parents. Luck, 64, who lives in nearby Chico, had savings from the sale of a previous home and met an accountant, and was ready to apply for a mortgage.
But in November 2018, before she could buy, the Camp Fire tore through paradise, burning down the house, among thousands of others in the surrounding area.
“At first I thought it was windy and went out to take a look,” recalls Lack, whose family lived 12 miles away, in a rented house in Chico, at the time. When she came out she realized what was happening and said she remembers thinking, “Oh no, that’s not going to be good.”
Their rents didn’t burn, but what Lac didn’t lose to the flames they lost to the effects. A week after the fire, the homeowner received multiple offers from people looking to buy the home. With the market expanding excessively inflating the price by $100,000, the owner decided to sell.
The house they were hoping to buy was destroyed, and their current home was sold from under them. Suddenly, The Lacks had 60 days to find a new place to live.
They roamed everywhere within 50 miles of Chico for anything to buy or rent, but so did tens of thousands of other people who were made homeless by the fire. The number of homes and rentals available fell rapidly, driving up prices in both the home buying and rental market.
“I told my daughter on Thursday when the fire broke out that by Monday there would be nothing to buy or rent in Chico,” Lack said. “And that was the case.”
Lac’s story is not rare. NBC News’ analysis of historical rental data found rental prices in small towns to rise in the wake of natural disasters. Experts say the growing demand for short-term accommodation is draining an already scarce supply and making it difficult for displaced people to find a place to stay.
All disaster survivors face the same predicament, as they confront each other: where to call home. Experts say that renters often suffer the most.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, many people need places to stay immediately. Displaced tenants are looking for new leases or hotels. Homeowners who have lost their homes or need to make repairs are joining the rental market. Disaster workers and contractors tasked with making repairs are looking for their short-term hotels and apartments. Experts say this puts pressure on the amount of available housing.
“Housing is like anything else. It responds to supply and demand,” said Greg Landry, CEO of Acadiana Legal Service Corporation in Louisiana, a nonprofit law firm that provides free services to low-income and seniors. of housing, and the demand is the same or greater, the price starts to go up.”
According to NBC News’ analysis of rental price data from real estate data firm CoreLogic, the mismatch between hotel availability, rents and demand after a disaster is particularly common in cities with fewer than 100,000 residents. In these areas, where IDPs compete for accommodation, tenants are often left behind.
For Lack, who runs a Chico-based company that repairs and prepares old homes for sale, the rent crunch has been so severe that the family has considered moving to a sliding-door metal warehouse where the company stores equipment. The warehouse is full of shovels, shovels, leaf blowers, and other tools. It has no windows, heating or even a shower.
“I knew in this climate we would never find anything,” Lack said. “We needed a place to live.”
In Butte County, California, experts said the Camp Fire destruction of Paradise led to an influx of survivors into Chico, doubling its population of 92,000 overnight. Without a surplus in rents and hotels to meet the need, the share of available rentals fell from 2 percent to zero, an area broker told NBC News.
prices have gone up; A year after the fire, average two-bedroom rental demand was 25 percent higher than it was at the same time a year earlier.
The impact of floods on the rental market could be even more severe. While fires usually destroy buildings only on the fringes of a city, floods destroy buildings across the city, creating a much larger group of displaced people and those looking for homes.
The rental market in Wilson, North Carolina, could not stand this strain in the wake of Hurricane Florence in 2018. Nine months after the storm swamped the city of 49,000 people, the average rent required for a two-bedroom rental in Wilson County was more than a room One – a third higher than at the same time a year ago. And in the Diocese of Iberia in Louisiana, home to New Iberia of 31,000 people, there was a similar 23 percent increase in the seven months after a rainstorm stopped that displaced tens of thousands of residents in August 2016.
The impact of disasters on the home buying market is not so simple. While he was in Butte County, sales prices increased along with rental prices, and home buying markets in Iberia Parish, Louisiana, and Wilson, North Carolina were unaffected by the floods.
Experts say the sharp rise in home purchase prices like those in Chico happens when the demand for rentals and hotels exceeds supply so dramatically that desperate residents who need or want to stay have no other choice but to buy immediately if they are able to.
Sandy Bowman, associate broker at Chico Homes Real Estate Sales, Inc., told NBC News that some of her clients are looking to buy homes just a week or two after losing their homes to the fire. “People weren’t looking for their dream home,” Bowman said. “They just don’t want to stand in the tent city.”
Leslie Albritton, disaster relief project manager at Legal Aid North Carolina, said that while the housing crisis and inflated prices pose a challenge to homeowners and renters alike, protections for displaced tenants are particularly meager.
“The first thing we get called about is the tenants who are displaced,” Albritton said. “There is no doubt that tenants are the most vulnerable populations we serve.”
After a disaster like Hurricane Florence, Albritton said, FEMA is deploying mobile housing units for temporary shelter that can last up to 18 months. But since counties that receive such units must have a place to put them, they are usually reserved for homeowners who can keep them on their property.
Tenants are in theory supported by a FEMA program that will pay hotel fees to the applicant, but experts say availability often limits implementation.
“People who came to help with disaster response took every hotel room on the floor,” said Ed Meyer, executive director of the Butte County Housing Authority. “Every room in the hotel has been full for months, if not years, because of the disaster labor camps.”
Albritton said that leaves tenants with no choice but to move away while repairs are complete or until an affordable apartment becomes available. Many cannot afford to leave or have other ties to the community.
The effects of transportation can be serious. “Many of our clients are working or have been employed. Poor and working. When they are displaced they are displaced from their jobs, their communities, their doctors and their children’s schools.”
And not many people can afford to leave, even if housing in a neighboring county is available. “Many of our clients who stayed did because the storm hit at the beginning of the month. They just paid the rent and didn’t have the money to leave,” Albritton said.
The effects are particularly severe for low-income survivors. Before the Camp Fire engulfed Chico with homeowners needing a place to stay, Meyer said, it typically took 60 days to connect applicants to affordable housing through the Section 8 voucher program. About 1 in 8 succeeded. After the fire, the time frame was extended to Six months and only 1 in 16 applicants were provided with facilities.
“The coupon is fake currency if you can’t use it,” Meyer said.
Paradise and Chico are not the only disaster-prone regions with large low-income populations.
“There’s a common saying, ‘Disasters don’t discriminate.’ Well, I really think that’s not true,” Albritton said. “The reality in eastern North Carolina is that low-income residents are crammed into areas that are particularly prone to flooding.”
In June, a peer-reviewed study from the First Street Foundation Research Lab, a group of academic and industry researchers who studies climate risks, indicated that in both rural and urban areas, low-income residents are more likely to live in flood-prone areas. Regions. When prices rise after a disaster, displaced populations in these areas are likely to be excluded from temporary accommodation even if they can find them.
“While there may be some things we do for clients in the short term, we don’t have a lot of tools in our legal toolkit to prevent rent increases in the long term,” Albritton said. “There is no legal remedy for just being too poor to pay the rent.”
The effects of higher rental rates and lower availability are far reaching and multiplying. Legal aid representatives and residents of areas that saw a shortage of affordable housing after the disaster told NBC News that people live anywhere they can: in friends’ garages, in cars, in tents in parks and on empty grounds. Others double or double with friends and family, moving from house to house.
There’s job turnover, education, everything. Landry said.
Some wrestle with a lack of stable housing for years. Albritton said her North Carolina office is still dealing with people who were displaced in Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 and have nowhere to live. The effect on rental rates is seldom diminished.
“I’ve never seen a situation where someone’s rent went up and then went back down,” Albritton said. “Once the rent is increased, it is raised.”
For some, this barrier to returning to the rental market is proving insurmountable.
In Chico, Luck was lucky to have savings. And at the last minute, a friend found a 1,000-square-foot mobile home for sale. She needed some work and far from what Lac and her husband dreamed of retiring in, but it was a place to call home.
Luck remembered the day they got the keys, saying, “I just stood in the living room and cried.”
“I will own everything from now on. I will not rent again.”