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State seeks opinions on fire recovery spending

The Almeda fire tore through Ashland, Talent and Phoenix as part of the Labor Day 2020 fires. [Mail Tribune / file photo]
Oregon Housing and Community Services is surveying locals as part of a planning process for $422 million in disaster relief community development block grants. [OHCS graphic]

The state of Oregon is surveying local people to help them prioritize how to allocate an unprecedented $422 million in disaster aid from the federal government.

The Department of Oregon Housing and Community Services wants to hear from Almeda and South Obenchain fire survivors, among others impacted by the Labor Day 2020 fires and local agencies helping them, according to a press release from the state agency last week.

The Disaster Recovery Unmet Needs Survey is part of a series of federal requirements needed for the state to receive its $422 million Community Development Block Grant for disaster recovery from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the OHCS website.

HUD announced Oregon’s $422 million cut of $2.04 billion in CDBG disaster recovery grants as part of the U.S. Senate passing the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act in November. It's the first time Oregon has received CDBG disaster recovery money.

The survey will help the agency “better understand what the state, wildfire survivors and affected communities still need to recover from the 2020 Labor Day fires,” and will use the findings to help the state develop a draft action plan to guide state funding priorities.

The action plan will largely focus on replacing housing for low- and moderate-income families, according to OHCS, but the federal money can also be spent on public infrastructure and economic revitalization projects.

Alex Campbell, a spokesman for OHCS, said the agency wants to hear from the Oregonians “hit the hardest” during the Labor Day fires.

“We are especially interested to hear from folks we know were hit the hardest and who face the greatest challenges in recovery, including our (Latino) neighbors, older residents and Oregonians who have specific housing needs due to disability or other circumstance,” Campbell stated in the release.

OHCS requests responses for three surveys available at oregon.gov/ohcs/housing-assistance/Pages/CDBG.aspx before April 4. The surveys include a survey in English geared toward Oregon residents or former Oregonians displaced by the fire, a similar survey in Spanish and a third survey for representatives of local governments, nonprofits or long-term recovery groups assisting fire survivors.

Anyone with questions or information they’d like to share can email ReOregon@hcs.oregon.gov.

The survey findings will be incorporated into a draft action plan that will be posted for public comments in May. The final action plan will be submitted to HUD by June 8, and HUD will authorize the action plan Aug. 7.