Holly Hubbard Preston: Burned to the Bone

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Affordable housing in the Napa Valley is as urgent a problem as it is elsewhere and this year’s devastating fires have only made it worse. Holly Hubbard Preston has this Perspective.

Earlier this month, I stood on the roof of my Napa Valley home, sweeping away the ash and charcoal left from the Glass Fire. It was the third time in as many years that I’ve carried out this solemn rooftop ritual. As with prior iterations, each broom stroke felt like a memorial to a neighbor’s loss.

Between August and October, fires wiped out hundreds of homes in our storied valley. Along with mansions, wineries and resorts, the fires destroyed mobile homes and neighborhoods filled with modest houses and rentable cottages.

Unlike my home, which is in town, many of these residences were located in the hills and outer valleys that mark the rural boundary of our community. Though fire-prone, these neighborhoods are among the last bastions of affordable housing in the Napa Valley.

Even before the fires, local housing authorities were sounding alarms about the rising scarcity of rent-ready dwellings. Drowned out by the cacophony of a fast growing wine-country economy, these warnings were hard to hear.


Not anymore.

The Napa Register recently reported that of the 1,200 homes lost to wildfires since 2017, only six percent have been replaced.

The number of people in my immediate orbit looking for housing and coming up short is staggering. Among the displaced are teachers and technicians, winery employees and hotel staff, chefs and servers.

That this displacement is happening in the midst of a pandemic makes the situation all the more harrowing—and urgent. The Napa Valley is what it is because of the people who live here and keep it going. I worry what the valley will become if these vital citizens are forced to move on.

Idyllic as life can be here, without a stable supply of housing for residents, this place could be the next five-star ghost town.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is a North Bay writer.