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See all Sonoma Gives stories here

In the natural world, devastating fires are followed by green shoots of renewal. That’s also what is happening with housing as the North Bay begins to rebuild.

Homes for Sonoma, a group of volunteer architects and builders, is one of several groups that sprung from the disastrous infernos last fall to jump-start rebuilding efforts.

Their goal is designing and providing short-term housing for fire victims while also helping to ease the North Bay’s chronic shortage of affordable shelter.

They hope to have the first 40 units up by April on a site in southwest Santa Rosa. If all goes as planned, they anticipate completing a total of 400 homes by the end of the year.

“We all are very committed to helping the fire victims, but there’s a longer-range vision of helping solve the affordable housing problem in the county,” said Steve Kwok of Santa Rosa-based Quattrocchi Kwok Architects, who’s helping to steer the group’s effort.

Homes for Sonoma has teamed with Burbank Housing, which has a long history of providing affordable housing for Sonoma County’s neediest residents.

The group’s principals have designed homes that can be built quickly and affordably, and contractors have been recruited to build them. “Everybody in this organization is a volunteer,” Kwok said. “Nobody’s getting paid.”

Aaron Jobson, a principal at Quattrocchi Kwok, said designs are variable and include modular homes, but all dwellings will conform to residential building codes. In other words, they will have nothing in common with the FEMA trailers used in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“There is no compromise in the quality, durability and sustainability of what we are building,” Jobson said. “It’s not built as a temporary structure. It’s built as a permanent structure” that can be relocated.

The homes have been designed, but Homes for Sonoma needs site approvals from the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County — and because the structures are pre-fabricated, they need state approval as well.

As soon as the permit approvals and funding are in place, building will commence, Jobson said, adding that he believes these approvals can be gained quickly as government officials want to expedite the rebuilding effort.

There are two sizes, he said: a one-bedroom, 12-by-40 foot home (480 square feet) and a three-bedroom home that’s 768 square feet. The ballpark cost per home is $100,000 to $150,000.

Funding hasn’t been secured yet, but Jobson said Homes for Sonoma has applied for grants in partnership with Burbank Housing.

The goal to finish building the 40 homes in southwest Santa Rosa by April is aggressive but attainable, Jobson said, because the homes are pre-fabricated.

“A lot of pieces need to fall into place to make this happen, he said.

Anyone interested in applying should visit homesforsonoma.org and click on “I Need a Home.” The focus is to “help those most in need,” Jobson said, those who aren’t receiving support from FEMA or insurance, and especially people who were renters before the fires.

Burbank Housing will own and operate the housing project and will be involved in the selection process.

Some rent will be required to cover operating costs and utilities, Jobson said, but it could be as low as $200 a month. Rents will be on a sliding scale and will be well below market rate.

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“The exit strategy” could include secondary use for students or the homeless after the fire victims vacate the dwellings, said Samantha Kraesig, creative director at Flight LLC, who is overseeing communications for Homes for Sonoma. “There’s a lot of opportunity” for employing these homes “beyond the disasters.”

As horrific as the fires were, they presented architects with an opportunity to re-think how to build in harmony with the environment, Kwok said.

“We as architects are always trying to think about how to make our communities more sustainable and more livable and more humane,” he said. “We all have a stake in having a more sustainable world.”

No one wants to slow rebuilding efforts, Jobson said, “but at the same time it’s an opportunity to innovate and come up with new solutions.”

One strategy is to have cottages fabricated outside the North Bay, where builders are more available, Kwok said, and then truck them to where they’re needed. In addition, Homes for Sonoma is working with Rebuild Together Petaluma, which is providing volunteers and recommending local contractors.

Some of the labor also will come from students in vocational programs who are seeking to learn construction skills.

“It’s an opportunity for students who want vocational training,” he said. “This is one of those great opportunities to really enhance those programs.”

The Career Technical Education Foundation Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Office of Education and the North Coast Builders Exchange joined forces to launch training courses this month that are based on the construction skills necessary to build temporary units for people left homeless by the fires. The courses also will provide OSHA certification for students.

“We needed more construction workers before (the fires), and now we need a whole lot more,” Jobson said. “This is a workforce development opportunity.”

A prototype should be ready in the next few weeks, he said, but additional funds and cooperation from government agencies will be required before they can expand the program.

Like others working to rebuild in the North Bay, Jobson notes that Homes for Sonoma must move quickly to provide housing for people who otherwise may leave the area.

“If we don’t have a solution to this problem of providing houses, people are going to have to leave this community and they are an important part of the community,” he said.

“We don’t want them to leave, so we need to do it as quickly as possible, or it’s not going to work.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Jackson Family Foundation has not made a commitment to fund Homes for Sonoma. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described its involvement in the project.

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