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Perspectives Blog

With Help from Fannie Mae, Paradise, CA Rebuilds Over 1,000 Homes

September 7, 2021
Maria Evans Headshot
Maria Evans

Vice President, Community Impact

The town of Paradise, in Butte Bounty, CA, was nearly destroyed by wildfires in 2018 when over 11,100 homes plus 2,000 structures were lost to the Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history. This summer, as wildfires again burn across the West, like the nearby Dixie Fire, now the largest fire in California history, residents face a renewed threat. But there is hopeful news, and a model for recovery and resiliency available to other fire-impacted communities, as over 1,000 homes have been rebuilt, including 1,001 single-family homes and 182 multifamily units, thanks to a partnership between Fannie Mae and the Rebuild Paradise Foundation.

Charles Brooks was one of the many residents of Paradise who narrowly escaped the Camp Fire. He and his family evacuated the area as the town blazed around them and, like many others, lost everything they had to leave behind. But Paradise was home, so Charles, and others, decided to rebuild their beloved community.

The journey has not been easy. One year after the fire, only 11 homes had been rebuilt. The process was delayed by hazardous waste cleanup, contaminated water, legal and insurance matters, increased material costs, labor shortages, and COVID-19. 

As Charles gathered information and sorted through both the physical and administrative challenges of rebuilding, the task seemed insurmountable. He heard the same story from many others. It became clear that the Paradise community needed a roadmap to help navigate the complex rebuilding process. While residents evaluated their options, many continued to pay mortgages on homes that didn’t exist or felt pressure to pay off their homes with insurance funds and move elsewhere.

Seeing the need, Charles started a nonprofit organization called the Rebuild Paradise Foundation. Its focus was simple — to provide critical resources to help residents looking for a path to rebuild their homes. During a visit to the area, Fannie Mae's Disaster Response and Rebuild team met Charles and heard about the Foundation’s work. We engaged in a partnership, creating a model to help homeowners reduce costs and expedite the rebuilding process, including:

  • Residential Floor Plan Library – A collection of home designs aligned to the standards set forth by the Town of Paradise and/or the County of Butte, creating a ready resource that saved residents time and money with preapproved plans that could be adapted to their home site.
  • Home Builders Resources Connection – An online platform created to connect community members with builders, service providers, and lenders – including educational videos produced with Fannie Mae's help to explain mortgage forbearance, manufactured housing options, and the lending process.
  • Mapping – A detailed and growing parcel mapping tool with information critical to rebuilding homes, which includes information on property surveys, ground contours, high-resolution imagery, and a septic capacity layer.
  • Fire resiliency and mitigation solutions – A set of fire-resilient design practices driven by innovation and building code, as well as mitigation resources to support Paradise and other fire-threatened communities. 

When he started the Rebuild Paradise Foundation in 2018, Charles Brooks didn't know how his efforts would impact and expedite rebuilding in his community. We are proud to be a part of his efforts, and we're pleased that we have been able to help him help his community to create positive outcomes and prepare for ongoing risks.

With another record wildfire season underway, the town of Paradise is a timely model showing how resiliency and recovery innovations may help other fire-threatened communities. It's part of our shared commitment to quality affordable housing, and to addressing the challenges of a changing landscape.

Watch the Rebuilding Paradise Foundation video to learn about the many ways our work together is enabling the people of Paradise to return home.