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FEMA trailer rent prices are unreasonable

Almeda fire survivors living in federally provided temporary dwellings soon must start paying for the privilege, unless the state can convince the Federal Emergency Management Agency to grant a waiver. Under the circumstances, FEMA should do that, or at least reduce the rents it plans to charge.

Survivors have been living in the boxy structures known as FEMA trailers since the aftermath of the Sept. 8. 2020 fire. They have not been charged rent, but federal regulations require the agency to charge local “market rate” rents after 18 months. That means April 1.

“Market rate” — based on the local rental market — means more than $1,000 a month, or as much as $1,697.

The local rental market was already priced out of reach of many local residents even before the fire. A vacancy rate near zero and the slow pace of new construction pushed rents higher.

The fire, which destroyed thousands of homes, made that shortage worse, driving prices even higher. Federal regulations that require “market rate” rents after a year and a half may sound reasonable from a government spending standpoint, but not to people relying on government assistance. Local fire survivor support groups say nearly 90% of fire survivors are in that category.

State officials requested a waiver of the rent increase from FEMA, but the agency refused, so the state has appealed. A decision is expected before April 1, but residents should not wait for that before taking action themselves.

Other assistance is available if survivors file the necessary paperwork with FEMA or state and local agencies. Disaster case managers can help survivors with that process.

FEMA officials should recognize that the local rental market is in shambles and not likely to get more affordable anytime soon. Charging more than $1,000 a month for what amount to temporary boxes or even RVs is unreasonable.

FEMA should grant the state’s waiver request and do it soon. If rent must be charged, it should be set at a level that is affordable for low-income people. Survivors of the worst disaster in Oregon history have weathered enough trauma without adding even more.