Up In Smoke

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Jessica Taylor

The fires that devastated the North Bay a year ago are out, but in their wake, it's the housing market that’s ablaze. Jessica Taylor has this Perspective.

I’ll never forget that windy October night a year ago, when my husband and I startled awake at 2 a.m. to what we thought was the scratch of tree branches. In actuality it was our dear friends, rapping on the window. They’d woken to a mandatory evacuation and fled the wildfire that was ravaging the dry hills east of Santa Rosa. When daybreak revealed an apocalyptic ashen sky and news that K-Mart had just caught fire, we joined the long line of cars heading out to the coast.

We were among the lucky with homes to return to, who would not know the horror suffered by some 5,000 people — like Judy Sakaki, president of Sonoma State University, who awoke at 4 a.m. to a burning house and fled without even shoes. Indeed, the Tubbs Fire, which quickly became the most destructive in California history, decimated our beloved town but left our family relatively unscathed.

Or so I thought. Six months later, almost to the day, my husband and I received 90 days’ notice from our landlord, without any explanation. The fires may have long been out, but the housing market was and still is ablaze. Crummy two bedrooms in Santa Rosa are going for $2,500 a month. As a county social worker and adjunct English instructor, our salaries have not and never will keep pace with the exploding cost of living here in the Bay Area.

We finally found a house in nearby Rohnert Park, though for the second time in three years we faced a $700 rent increase. Our rent has more than doubled since 2015, inching us closer to that quarter of Sonoma County residents who spend at least half their income on rent. We’re among the journalists and teachers, farmers and county employees, who are increasingly finding Sonoma County an unsustainable place to live. We love contributing to our community and raising our children here. We don’t want to be squeezed out.


Thankfully the horrific fires are a year behind us, and Santa Rosa is rebuilding. But for us Bay Area renters, our homes seem more vulnerable than ever.

With a Perspective, I’m Jessica Taylor.

Jessica Taylor teaches English at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University.