Wildfires destroyed thousands of homes across Oregon this year. The bulk of them — 2,400 residential units — were located in Jackson County, where almost 300 families have requested help with housing from FEMA.
The county will be the staging ground where FEMA will deliver trailers that will then go to families across the county and the state in the coming weeks.
At a press conference at the Jackson County Courthouse on Monday, FEMA spokesman Toby Rice said his agency is prioritizing families with the highest needs. Its staff are speaking with families directly to find the best locations for their trailers.
“Sometimes they'll be purchased and [delivered] directly to sites,” Rice said. “Ideally for owners, if they're their private property has room for a unit that could be appropriate, that would be a priority.”
FEMA staffers have also been trying to find rental vacancies for displaced families, but that’s been a challenge in a region that was already struggling with a vacancy rate close to 0% before the Almeda Fire destroyed 2,400 homes.
Local officials are looking at other ways to provide transitional housing, including retrofitting existing buildings. John Vial, director of the Emergency Operations Center for wildfires, says the Army Corps of Engineers has a few buildings in mind, including vacant dormitories owned by Southern Oregon University.
“They looked at other buildings like the Elks Lodge, the Key Bank and an old hotel here in the valley,” Vial said at the press conference. “They’re looking at how much would it cost to retrofit those facilities, and how quickly could we get it done, and is that a viable alternative?”
All direct housing assistance from FEMA is set to expire 18 months after a federal disaster declaration. In Oregon, that expiration date is March 15, 2022.
Meanwhile, the American Red Cross is providing emergency housing to 512 people in 23 different hotels, as well as 86 people at RV parks. The organization has a contract with the state of Oregon to provide this housing until the end of this year. Vial said local officials don’t yet know what will happen to those families after that assistance expires.