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Contractor building three tiny homes to help California wildfire victims

Charlie McEvoy was like everybody else in Northern California as he watched massive wildfires tear through his Sonoma County community: shocked and saddened beyond words.

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Doug Criss (CNN)
(CNN) — Charlie McEvoy was like everybody else in Northern California as he watched massive wildfires tear through his Sonoma County community: shocked and saddened beyond words.

The flames of the fire never reached his home, but his family did evacuate as a precaution.

But now that the fires are pretty much contained, McEvoy, who owns a construction company in Santa Rosa, decided to try to do something to help the thousands of people in the area who were left without homes: build tiny houses.

"We were sitting around like everybody else feeling helpless" McEvoy said. "My wife was talking about how we could survive if this happened to us."

McEvoy told his wife if their home had been destroyed in the wildfires, they would use their home construction expertise to build a new home.

"Why don't you just do that?" his wife asked, and the tiny house project to help people left homeless by the fires was born.

McEvoy started a GoFundMe page to raise funds to build three tiny homes. He'll donate the homes to families who lost everything to the wildfires and who don't have insurance or funds to rebuild. He estimates each home will cost $15,000 to construct. McEvoy and his crew started work about two weeks ago on the first house. Subcontractors he normally works with for electrical, plumbing and other work are donating their labor.

Each tiny home, according to the GoFundMe page, will be built on a trailer and have a bathroom with shower, sink, and composting toilet; a kitchen with refrigerator, freezer, sink, oven and range; a queen-size loft; a twin bed; living space; a water heater; insulated walls; a gray water system; storage space and windows "to let in lots of light and air."

Fires exacerbate housing crunch

McEvoy only plans right now to build three of his tiny houses, but there's a big need for them.

The most destructive fires in California history -- which killed 42 people and destroyed 8,400 structures -- torched much of Santa Rosa, from high-end homes and middle-class neighborhoods to a mobile home park. It left the entire spectrum of the city's population in distress as homes and businesses went up in flames.

The San Francisco Bay Area's housing crunch now has the fire's survivors dealing with a new crisis: They have nowhere to go.

Housing was already scarce in Santa Rosa before the fire. Now, there's even less.

Santa Rosa, a mixed-income community about 50 miles north of San Francisco, was one of the last vestiges of affordable housing compared with the rest of the Bay Area. The value of a typical Santa Rosa home was around $600,000, compared with San Francisco's $1.2 million and Marin County's $1 million, according to 2017 data from the National Association of Realtors.

Before the fires, the city had already been grappling with severe lack of housing and a 3% vacancy rate.

"The inventory was constrained prior to the fire," said Rick Laws, senior vice president in Santa Rosa for Pacific Union International real estate agency. "Now, we have lost about 5% of the housing stock of Santa Rosa, so that's huge."

McEvoy hopes his three tiny homes will help ease that crunch a little.

He also stresses that what he, his family and subcontractors are doing is similar to what others are doing to help Northern California recover from the wildfires.

"We just kind of started the idea. There are so many people bending over backwards," he said. "It's amazing how the communities come together."

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