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Rent deadline extended for Almeda fire survivors living in FEMA trailers

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune FEMA trailers at Coleman Creek Estates. Rent for 179 families in temporary direct housing will be due May 1 — not April 1 as many Almeda and South Obenchain fire survivors were told by FEMA last month.
Rent due date extended a month to May 1, giving Almeda fire survivors more time to apply for reductions

Displaced Southern Oregonians living in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers have been granted an extra month to apply for reduced rent before their checks come due.

Rent for 179 families in FEMA trailers will be due May 1 — not April 1 as Almeda and South Obenchain fire survivors were told by FEMA last month — according to a press release issued by Sen. Ron Wyden’s office and a FEMA letter that went out to residents Friday.

“The correct date your rent payment is due is May 1, 2022,” the letter said, in part. “This May 1, 2022, payment will cover your rent for April 2022.”

State Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said the extra month can help fire survivors apply with FEMA for an adjustment on rent based on the fire survivor’s post-disaster income and expenses, but residents in FEMA housing need to know that they’re in a retroactive rent situation that may impact their moving expenses.

Marsh called FEMA’s retroactive rent system “hideously confusing” and “a crazy, crazy system.”

“You’re paying for the month that’s already elapsed,” Marsh said. “This is not the way anybody in the outside world does this.”

People in Southern Oregon living in FEMA trailers have not had to pay rent since the Labor Day 2020 fires, but FEMA mailed out letters in February warning occupants they’ll need to pay “market rate” rents — in excess of $1,000 per month — despite fixed monthly incomes as low as $600 per month, according to a Mail Tribune report last week.

The Almeda fire destroyed numerous manufactured home parks in Phoenix and Talent, many occupied by low-income residents who were uninsured or underinsured.

FEMA can adjust the rent to as low as $50 per month for the lowest-income survivors, and Marsh encouraged local fire survivors to get started applying for adjustments.

“We are seeing people from Jackson County approved for rent reductions as low as $50 a month,” Marsh said. “We just need to encourage people to get their applications in.”

To file the necessary paperwork to get a rent reduction, survivors need to contact their disaster case manager. They can find their case manager by calling 833-699-0554.

Melanie Doshier, support services director with the nonprofit ACCESS, encouraged fire survivors living in FEMA trailers to contact them as soon as possible because of the retroactive rent that means case workers have until April 1 to sort out the first month of rent.

“ACCESS is encouraging all wildfire survivors currently residing in a FEMA trailer to contact the ACCESS Center for Community Resilience as soon as possible if you need to appeal, which may reduce rent payments to $50 a month. In addition to helping with FEMA rent subsidy applications, the Center for Community Resilience can assist wildfire survivors with finding alternative housing solutions, paying housing-related expenses, and aid with those wanting to purchase a manufactured home,” Doshier said.

The Center for Community Resilience can be reached at 541-414-0318 or via email at ccr@accesshelps.org.

A message seeking comment from a FEMA representative was not immediately returned Monday afternoon but, according to Wyden’s office, of the 179 families in FEMA housing, 43 have begun the rental adjustment process and five households have qualified for the minimum $50 per month adjusted rent.

Wyden’s office stated that residents living in FEMA trailers were contacted over the weekend about the process for adjusting their rent based on the their post-disaster income and expenses after he met with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

“I made it very clear when I spoke with Administrator Criswell that fire survivors in Oregon need the proper time and support to afford their stay in temporary housing,” Wyden said in the release. “I will continue to hold FEMA accountable to its commitment to a proactive rent adjustment process, prompt communication with state and local partners as well as accessible outreach to multilingual families.”

Wyden said that the federal agency is “committed to provide enough caseworkers on the ground in Oregon to work with each and every family to support them through the rental adjustment process, including the continuation of multilingual resources.”

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