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Housing projects for fire victims move ahead

Courtesy photo FEMA travel trailers in staging area.

Two Talent-area projects to provide transitional housing for residents displaced by the Almeda fire have moved forward in recent days with a commitment of $1.7 million by the state for one project and approval from Jackson County for a contingency site that could house Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers.

In addition, a lease on a FEMA trailer site is expected to be signed in the near future, an agency representative said. But one Talent manufactured home park under consideration has withdrawn from a process that seeks to place trailers in parks that were damaged by the fire.

Plans by the Talent Urban Renewal Agency to place transitional housing units on its Gateway site got a boost with a funding commitment from Oregon Housing and Community Services.

TURA hopes to use the site to house families temporarily in trailers or RVs. The agency will need to install infrastructure to support such a community, but that would also serve the long-term goal of using the 4.3-acre site for permanent residential and commercial development.

A hybrid mix of grants and loans will likely make up the OHCS package, said TURA Executive Director Jon Legarza. He said he expects to sign a final agreement within 30 days. Staff have already prepared site plans and will go out to bid for the work in the near future. A ground-breaking around Memorial Day is possible, he said.

“(The project) shows a real commitment to collaborate and advance an innovative approach for utilizing local assets in the short term while long-term rebuilding occurs,” said Caleb Yant, deputy directory of OHCS.

People’s Bank of Commerce Foundation had committed $250,000 toward the project contingent upon the agency securing financing. One project goal is to provide housing for families that might not qualify for FEMA assistance. Plans for the site include 53 housing locations and three sites to host food trucks.

Jackson County Development Services this week approved a land use application that would allow placement of FEMA trailers on land owned by the Phoenix-Talent School District on Colver Road just outside city limits.

“It’s still considered a contingency site, but this really gives FEMA the assurance that if other things don’t pan out, they can serve the needs of ... families that don’t have housing,” said Tom Humphrey, planning director with Central Point who is on loan to the county to assist with transitional housing. He applied for the approval in late March.

An original proposal to have 110 trailers at the site was scaled back to 50 after input was received in an online town hall meeting held in January. The trailers would also be located further away on the site from existing homes.

FEMA expects to sign a lease in the near future for location of trailers in a mobile home park that burned, said Paul Corah, a media specialist with the agency. He declined to identify the location.

A FEMA goal is to place families in their original communities close to schools and other resources, said Corah. FEMA has already housed families at three locations around the valley. Humphrey said that about 90 more families need transitional hosing.

Talent Mobile Estates on Arnos Road has dropped out of the process. The park had 90 of its original 100 trailers destroyed in the fire. Under a FEMA proposal, 64 trailers would have been located on the site.

In early April correspondence with the city of Talent, park owner Hosung Kim raised concerns about being able to return the same number of trailers to the park that were housed in it prior to the fire once the FEMA trailers were removed. City officials responded that the park could be rebuilt to pre-fire capacity, but that needed to be done by March 10, 2023, when an emergency order expires.

Kim wrote that while planning had progressed, there was lack of any actionable direction from the city with regard to long-term rebuilding. Kim also said the park’s lender had expressed concerns about financial viability of the park both on an immediate and long-term basis.

Totem Pole Park in Talent and Rogue Valley just north of Phoenix were identified as other sites under consideration at a March Talent City Council meeting where FEMA representatives spoke. Parks that experienced fire have to undergo environmental analysis for presence of heavy metals before agreements with FEMA can be completed

FEMA has never before attempted to place trailers on land that went through a fire, said Humphrey. A more usual scenario has been to use bare land or land that had been flooded. Parks might be ready for occupancy by late May or early June if they get through the heavy metals testing with no further action necessary, Humphrey said.

Talent City Council gave direction to city staff at its April 7 meeting to look at two pieces of city-owned land for possible housing.

Land off of Suncrest Road is being examined for both transitional and affordable permanent housing, said interim City Manager Jamie McLeod-Skinner. She said FEMA is conducting tests at the Suncrest site. Land in Chuck Roberts Park is also being examined as a possible location for transitional housing.

“The bottom line for folks that need housing is they don’t have housing to move into today,” said McLeod-Skinner.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.