Rebuilding the home she lost in Fountaingrove to the Tubbs fire in October 2017 has been a frustrating and confusing process for Brenda Gilchrist.
She was underinsured, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration denied her applications for aid. To make matters worse, Gilchrist said, the salvageable foundation on her lot was inexplicably overexcavated without her consent.
Gilchrist, a partner in a local human resources consulting firm who lives in the Alturia Heights neighborhood, said her rebuilding troubles have been compounded by insufficient financial aid for Fountaingrove homeowners.
While many may be considered affluent by the average Santa Rosan, some are nonetheless struggling to close the gap between available funds and the cost of rebuilding.
Gilchrist and her neighbors have watched as disaster relief resources go elsewhere — including Coffey Park, where Santa Rosa recently authorized a state-funded $1.2 million loan program to aid rebuilders. Gilchrist is among those wondering why there’s no such program for folks in Fountaingrove.
Then there’s the matter of the $14.1 million city and county officials plan to spend on homelessness projects; the $90 million complex that includes affordable housing and shelter beds being built by Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, the county’s main homeless services provider; and a $124 million federal disaster recovery grant that is expected to include $38.5 million for new apartments in Santa Rosa and $47 million to fund grants of up to $150,000 for Californians to rebuild and repair single-family homes.
“We’re all wondering: Where do all the funds go?” Gilchrist said. “The fundraisers, the concerts, the grants, the tax dollars that came in … Where did all those monies go?”
The Coffey Park loan program has generated “a lot of interest” but no eligible applicants, city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said. And state officials expect the first awards from the $124 million grant to be issued this fall, after that process was delayed by the federal government shutdown.
Fountaingrove resident Laney Rooks, an aspiring lawyer and former medic in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard who lives on Alkirst Court, said she doesn’t oppose spending taxpayer dollars on projects such as homelessness shelters. But if the city doesn’t do more to aid rebuilders, it’s in danger of seeing its tax base eroded by the departures of fire survivors, she said.
“I have three neighbors I know that are leaving the area because they can’t rebuild. They can’t afford it, and they don’t want to put themselves in a situation where they are homeless,” Rooks said.
City Councilwoman Victoria Fleming, whose district includes Fountaingrove, noted that funding from state and federal entities — such as the state money that funded the Coffey Park loan program — often is subject to strict income requirements.
And many of the federal funds local officials receive for homelessness projects are limited to homelessness and can’t be diverted to supplement other initiatives, such as rebuilding, she said.
“Our hearts go out to everyone who is courageous enough to rebuild,” Fleming said, adding she wasn’t aware of any opportunities to set up a similar loan program for Fountaingrove residents but would support such a program.
By mid-April, 21 of the roughly 1,500 homes that burned in Fountaingrove during the October 2017 fires — including the Journey’s End mobile home park and the Villa Capri senior living facility — had been rebuilt, according to data provided by the city. Another 482 units were under construction, and the city had issued permits for an additional 118 and was reviewing plans for 125 more.