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Gateway project to bring Talent fire victims home

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneThe Gateway Project has trailers setup for fire victims on 4.3 acres at the corner of Highway 99 and West Valley View Road in Talent.

Talent’s Gateway project to provide transitional homes for families displaced by the Sept. 8, 2020, Almeda fire will begin housing families around mid-November, just a little over 14 months since the conflagration. A ribbon-cutting will be held at the site Saturday, Oct. 30, starting at 11 a.m.

Talent Urban Renewal Agency has collaborated with a number of partners, including the Phoenix-Talent School District, to take 4.3 acres it owns at the corner of Highway 99 and West Valley View Road to create a site with utilities ready to house 53 trailers. The housing was created for residents who did not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.

Residents will all reside in new, 37-foot-long Palomino Puma travel trailers supplied by the state of Oregon. The school district and Rogue Retreat had been working to secure donations of recreational vehicles for the site before the state offered the trailers.

“I have to say I’m overwhelmed with pride in humanity. The reason is that when we started this project, we had this vision of placing people back into their community in donated RVs,” said Darby Ayers-Flood, urban renewal agency board president and mayor of Talent. “It attracted so much attention, from People’s Bank, who helped us from the very beginning to (State Rep.) Pam Marsh, who was a champion … and helped us make connections.”

As important as securing temporary housing for the displaced, finding permanent homes is just as vital, said Ayers-Flood.

“We will be transitioning folks as soon as permanent housing becomes available. That could be up to three years,” said Ayers-Flood. “It’s meant to provide them with temporary housing because they were displaced.”

In the long term the agency hopes to develop housing on the site along with some commercial buildings. The infrastructure installation should aid that process.

“It’s a beginning of a process to bring our families back within our district full-time. It provides a space that is closer to their schools. It will reduce times on buses,” said Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Brent Barry. “It means our families get a chance to be really entrenched in the community again.”

Last month the district was busing nearly 200 students from Emigrant Lake, White City, Rogue River, Gold Hill and Central Point, where families had found housing.

The project is the first locally driven transitional housing effort in the state, and likely in the nation, said Jon Legarza, executive director of the urban renewal agency. Most trailers should be on site by mid-November and all occupied before Christmas, he said.

Oregon Housing and Community Services awarded a $1 million grant for the project in April. They agency has also given a 1% interest loan of $700,000, with no payment due for three years. The loan has a forgiveness provision.

People’s Bank of Commerce Foundation initially gave $38,500 to assist with design and engineering. It followed that up with a $250,000 grant for phase one construction. Other grants for the project include $150,000 from the Rogue Action Center, $75,000 from the Oregon Community Foundation and $47,500 from Rogue Climate. A donation of $12,000 was given by Medford United Church of Christ.

Thousands of hours of in-kind work contributions have come from partners and local volunteers. Partners include Rogue Retreat, Talent Maker City, they city’s urban forestry and public arts committees and the Planning Commission.

Rogue Retreat is accepting the applications for the units and can be contacted at www.rogueretreat.com or 541-499-0880. Criteria for residence is that the families be from Phoenix or Talent, displaced by the fire and have children in the district, said Legarza. The school district estimated that 696 students and their families were displaced by the fire.

The agency has leased the property to Rogue Retreat for the term of the temporary emergency accommodations permit that was issued by the city. Rogue Retreat will enter into participation agreements with residents. Rogue Retreat will determine program participation fees, based on the income of families residing on the site.

Up to seven people can sleep in the Puma trailers. They have two slide-outs to increase interior space and two bedrooms, one of which is fitted with bunk beds. Trailers are equipped with television and Wi-Fi and include mattresses and convertible sofas. A few trailers have already arrived, and another 20 are expected this week.

Pilot Rock Excavation, LLC, installed the infrastructure. The Oregon Legislature passed rules that permits transitional housing such as the Gateway project. The legislation allows cities such projects outside the scope of state building and land use permit requirements. The agency hired Powell Engineering to provide inspection and a report for review by the city. City Council waived the usual system development charges.

A community-created art wall surrounds the project site. Artwork on the rebuilding of Talent, submitted in a contest, was transferred onto 4-by-6-foot panels by students in a Talent Maker City class and installed on fencing.

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

Correction: This article has been corrected to say that Rogue Retreat is taking applications for the trailers.