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FEMA housing residents get 6-month extension

file photoFEMA mobile home park in Phoenix.

Residents of Federal Emergency Management Agency direct emergency housing, commonly called FEMA trailers, who were displaced by the Almeda fire will get a six-month extension to Sept. 15, the agency has decided.

About 150 one-, two- and three-bedroom trailers are available to serve Jackson County residents, with 84 of those located in areas burned by the fire.

Residents will have to begin paying fair market rents beginning April 1, but they can get rent adjustments from the agency based on hardships. They currently pay just utilities.

“Where extensions of this nature are typically extended three months at a time, exception was made given the severe circumstances, and our request for a six-month extension was granted,” said Stan Thomas, a deputy director with the state’s Office of Emergency Management. “We continue to coordinate with our FEMA partners on innovative ways to address the unique needs of our communities.”

An extension beyond Sept. 15 could happen.

“There’s always the possibility it can be extended. We haven’t gotten to that bridge yet. It’s up to the state,” said Paul Corah, a media relations specialist with FEMA. He said that the extensions happen regularly based on a variety of factors, including rebuilding progress and level of unit occupancy.

Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management submitted the request to obtain the extension. Under current guidelines, FEMA direct housing help is available for 18 months following the declaration of a disaster. The declaration for Almeda was issued Sept. 15, 2000, a week after the Sept. 8 blaze that destroyed an estimated 2,500 housing units from north Ashland to south Medford.

The extension also applies to FEMA trailers in four other Oregon counties affected by fires — Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Marion — which occurred at nearly the same time as the Almeda fire.

According to Corah, as of Thursday 154 FEMA units were located in or serving Jackson County, including seven at Totem Pole Trailer Park in Talent. North of Phoenix Coleman Creek Estates has 60 units, and Rogue Valley Mobile Village has 17. Thirty-one units were at Southern Oregon RV Park in Central Point, 18 at Willow Estates Mobile Home Park in Grants Pass and one at Madrone Mobile Home Park in Central Point.

FEMA signed leases with the owners of Totem Pole, Coleman Creek and Rogue Valley, all of which burned in the fire. The agency then rehabilitated the sites to accept the trailers.

In all there are about 200 units located in Oregon. Lincoln County has 23, Marion County has 11 and Lane County has 12. About 130 trailers are occupied by displaced homeowners, and the other 70 by displaced renters.

A streamlined rent adjustment process has been approved by FEMA. The agency is doing outreach to occupants to help with documentation needed to evaluate the ability to pay rent. The rents are based on fair market rates as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. FEMA representatives will handle the process.

Residents who are at or below the HUD very low-income line will have the reduced rent rate of $50 per month. Those above that level will need to show only post-disaster income and housing costs.

Oregon state officials had asked that FEMA extend the period of assistance through Sept. 15, which would have suspended rents until that date. But in a Tuesday letter, FEMA’s Kevin Sligh, director of the Individual Assistance Division, denied the request.

The state said that 88% of the temporary housing unit occupants are at or below 80% of the area median income. Challenges to finding homes include gaps in insurance coverage for homeowners, lack of contractors to help rebuild, and supply constraints on manufactured homes, the state said. In addition, delays in congressional appropriations for long-term recovery funds have occurred.

After Sept. 15, all occupants must return the units to FEMA. Failure to comply would result in assessment of a monthly penalty fee. The unoccupied units will be sold on a government website or returned to the agency’s inventory.

A program that allows residents to buy the trailers is in place, but so far only one unit has been purchased. Before an applicant can complete the closing, they must have made arrangements for a place to put the unit and someone to haul it off the FEMA site.

There are no agreements in place with site owners to leave trailers that have been purchased from FEMA in place. The new trailer owners may make a separate agreement with the current site for spaces.

Residents seeking information about options and paying rent can call 833-669-0554 to connect with a disaster case manager or local housing navigator.

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