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Loans, new Access center will aid fire survivors

Access’ new Center for Community Resilience will serve as a “one-stop shop” for Almeda and South Obenchain fire survivors, but the nonprofit is helping survivors with housing needs now. Submitted photo.

One year after the Almeda fire took out thousands of manufactured homes, a $50 million state supplemental loan program and a local nonprofit’s upcoming “one-stop shop” for resources will help people replace the homes they lost.

Five-figure forgivable loans for people who lost trailers and other forms of manufactured housing in the 2020 fires will help wildfire survivors. And a planned one-stop shop called the Center for Community Resilience will help to streamline the process, according to Access and the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services.

“We’re going to be working very closely with them (ODHCS),” said Joe Vollmar, Access housing director. The center is slated to open later this fall at Sixth and Ivy streets in downtown Medford.

Chelsea Catto, ODHCS spokesperson, described the $50 million forgivable housing loan program as “just a little bit of a subsidy to get them (manufactured home fire survivors) over the finish line.”

The program is still evolving, but presently the supplemental loans max out at about $35,000 for replacement of a single-wide manufactured home and $45,000 toward a double-wide.

“It’s really just enough to fill a funding gap,” Catto said.

The program is meant to help people offset costs not covered by primary housing loans, which may be focused more on just the home, according to Catto.

“They’re not just needing to put in a home, they’re needing to put in a porch and an awning,” Catto said.

The state agency had been issuing similar loans on a much smaller scale after the Labor Day fires, but in practice, Catto found, their program was “just kind of one piece of the puzzle.”

Because manufactured-home owners who lost homes in the fires had a variety of needs, Catto said, the agency decided to “pivot” and see how their program could work with a third-party nonprofit.

“The hope is that this resource will be able to leverage other resources out there,” Catto said. “It’s been a year, but we’re trying to figure out how they can work together.

Vollmar said the new Access center will serve as a “one-stop shop” for Almeda and South Obenchain fire survivors who have housing needs. Those needs can include immediate rental assistance, help finding a rental unit in the short term, or help avoiding predatory loans when purchasing a replacement manufactured home.

Vollmer plans to collaborate with other agencies and nonprofits such as Rogue Community Health and Unete, Center for Farm Worker Advocacy.

The center is expected to open later this fall, but Access is already helping fire survivors. “We’re open. We’re serving some fire survivors,” Vollmar said.

Fire survivors who need help should call 541-414-0318 or see accesshelps.org/firerelief. For more information about the Center for Community Resilience, see accesshelps.org/ccr.

The Oregon Legislature granted $150 million to ODHCS to help rebuild housing across the state — much of it in Southern Oregon, according to ODHCS Deputy Director Caleb Yant, who spoke at a recent “Our Path to Recovery” Zoom webinar hosted by State Rep. Pam Marsh.

The largest part of the funding — about $50 million — is focused on help for manufactured-home owners, and Yant stated that relief for impacted home owners can’t come quickly enough.

“I want to underscore that it’s not soon enough, it’s not fast enough,” Yant said.

Eighteen manufactured home parks were severely damaged or destroyed in the Almeda fire, Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan told state legislators at a webinar last week, adding that 531 fire survivors were still living in hotel rooms.

The county does not anticipate those residents will find housing in the next nine months because rebuilt trailer parks are struggling to get new manufactured homes, and manufactured home companies are running at least a year and a half behind demand.

Other portions of the $150 million in ODHCS funding include $40 million in services to fire survivors, such as rental assistance, $30 million toward “intermediate housing” focused on getting families out of hotel rooms, $20 million to acquire land for redevelopment — particularly for manufactured home parks — and $10 million to leverage Oregon industries in the housing rebuild.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.