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Royal Oaks move-in delayed by uninhabitable homes. Now what? 

 Some of the modular homes have been installed on the site in Phoenix.
Jane Vaughan
Some of the modular homes have been installed on the site in Phoenix.

When the Almeda Fire hit in 2020, Tania was living in Medford and lost her home.

"I could hear propane tanks exploding in the back," she said. "I left the water hose on hoping that that would contain whatever fire was coming. But it was uncontainable."

Tania doesn’t want us to use her last name for this story ... She’s been living with her parents in Medford, along with her 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, in a one-bedroom home.

"We're like sardines in there," Tania said. "So I was kind of looking for a roof over my kids' head, where they can play freely and something that they can call theirs."

About two years ago, the state purchased 140 modular homes from Nashua Builders in Boise, Idaho, for about $26 million.

The plan is to use 118 of those to rebuild Royal Oaks Mobile Manor in Phoenix, which burned down in the fire. The project broke ground in November 2022. Families who lost their homes in the fire have been prioritized for housing, and the site will be run by the Jackson County Housing Authority.

Two months ago, Tania applied to live at the new Royal Oaks and was accepted into the lottery system to live there.

But she was recently notified that the homes were found unfit to live in.

The first batch of homes was delivered to a storage site in Medford in March 2022.

Ryan Flynn, director of disaster recovery and resilience for Oregon Housing and Community Services, which bought the homes, said that when they were first delivered, there were questions about the quality.

"Some of those units caused us concern just on visual inspection. We moved some to the project site and did deconstructive testing of some of the units and, through inspections, discovered the unsafe living conditions," he said.

As the homes have been installed on-site this spring, they’ve realized they’re not safe for people to live in. Problems include leaking water, mold and multiple code issues.

The state has declined to give more specific details.

 Site work is still being done at Royal Oaks in Phoenix.
Jane Vaughan
Site work is still being done at Royal Oaks in Phoenix.

The other half of the homes are still at the manufacturer’s in Idaho, but Flynn expects those will be uninhabitable as well.

"The construction defects that we've noted are systemic in our view," he said.

Some have wondered if the state was negligent in caring for the homes in the period between construction and installation. It took time to find a suitable location for them, so they were sitting for months.

"They were all sealed up," said Elib Crist-Dwyer, a disaster relief team organizer with Rogue Action Center. "They were all closed up without any air circulation for over a year. And so anything that's going to sit like that and deal with condensation is going to mold."

But Flynn said the problems are due not to the homes just sitting, but to problems with the manufacturing.

"These units are intended to be outside. Right? The defects are systemic, substantial, and the issues that we're seeing are not the cause of storage. They are the defects of the initial manufacturing," he said.

Nashua Builders, the manufacturer, has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Neither has the Jackson County Housing Authority.

Meanwhile, Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said the state is now scrambling to figure out next steps.

"We clearly need to start all over with this process. We cannot put people in homes that aren't good, solid, long-term homes," she said.

It’s unclear what led Nashua to deliver homes that Marsh and Flynn said are not up to standard or whether the state will be able to get back the $26 million it spent on them.

"My expectation is we would recoup all of those costs, or we would get adequate solid replacements. I think, as a state, we probably have a lot of lawyers looking at this right now," Marsh said.

The Rogue Valley has a severe housing shortage, and these modular homes are in high demand. So for fire survivors, this news just prolongs the wait as we near the third anniversary of the Almeda Fire.

"The situation is unfortunate," said Joe Vollmar, housing director for ACCESS, which has been helping fire survivors find housing. "Our biggest thing that we want to stress is that we want to make sure that people do have safe and secure stable housing. And to us, it sounds like these may not have been that sort of option."

Ryan Flynn said OHCS is still committed to completing the Royal Oaks project.

"This is really unfortunate news. We do not like sharing this kind of update. We wouldn't do it unless we knew that we had to because our number one priority is quality housing for survivors," he said. "We're working with the manufacturer on how to address the situation. I really hope they do the right thing."

For now, Tania plans to stay with her parents. She said when she found out that the modular homes were unlivable, it was crushing.

"I don't even think you can explain the feeling. It's like you start feeling hope, and then it's taken away from you," she said. "If I could go purchase a home today, I would in order to provide my kids with like something of their own, but I can't. I need their assistance. And I need their help."

Fire survivors had planned to move into their new homes at Royal Oaks this fall. Move-in has now been shifted to spring 2024 at the earliest.

Copyright 2023 Jefferson Public Radio. To see more, visit Jefferson Public Radio.

Jane Vaughan
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