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New modular homes for wildfire victims in Phoenix found to be uninhabitable

A line of people in white hard hats are holding shovels with gold-colored blades. They are holding a mound of dirt on the shovel as they get ready to throw it in front of them.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
State, county and local partners break ground at the site of the new Royal Oaks development in Phoenix in November 2022. Half of the homes were recently found to be unfit to live in.

The homes were meant to be prioritized for Almeda Fire victims. Replacing them could cost $20-25 million.

About 60 modular homes in Phoenix that were meant to be prioritized for Almeda Fire victims were recently discovered to be uninhabitable.

Replacing the homes could cost $20-25 million.

The state had purchased about 120 modular homes to be installed on the site of the Royal Oaks Mobile Manor in Phoenix, which was destroyed in the 2020 fire.

The project broke ground in November and planned to house 118 families. But families were told this week that their move-in date has been postponed indefinitely after about half of the homes were found to be uninhabitable.

Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said the defects were discovered in recent weeks as the homes were being installed.

Elib Crist-Dwyer, disaster relief team organizer at the nonprofit Rogue Action Center, said for fire survivors, this is just another example of the frustration and disappointment they’ve had to face.

"We are seeing a real erosion in the trust that survivors have in the agencies that are supposed to be working for them," he said.

Crist-Dwyer said the homes were "sitting for about a year while local and state officials kind of figured out where those mobile homes were going to be placed. And during that time that those units were sitting, they became unfit for folks to live in them."

But Marsh said the problem with the homes is not that they were sitting for a year, but that they were not built up to code.

"The flaws that we're finding are not the result of sitting. They are flaws in the actual construction of the units," she said.

She said mold has been discovered in some of the homes, as well as leaking water and multiple other code issues.

Crist-Dwyer said the other half of the homes are still at the manufacturer in Idaho, and there are concerns those homes could also be uninhabitable. The manufacturer is Nashua Builders in Boise, ID.

"I think our expectation is that none of the ones that were ordered are going to be acceptable," she said. "We clearly need to start all over with this process."

The Rogue Valley has a severe housing shortage, and these modular homes are in high demand.

Oregon Housing and Community Services wrote in a statement: "OHCS determined that these homes are not suitable, healthy or safe to live in. OHCS expects the delay will be at least six months from the original timeline (move-in was slated for September/October 2023). Move-in will be in Spring 2024 at the earliest. OHCS acknowledges this is another delay for wildfire survivors who have already waited too long for a stable home, but the agency is absolutely committed to providing safe and healthy housing. This is not an area in which we will compromise. OHCS is working together with local partners to provide the families and people affected by the wildfires with stable homes as quickly as we can."

Marsh said replacing the homes will take at least until next year.

"That's really disappointing, terribly disappointing because all of this recovery is taken much too long, much longer than anybody would like," she said.

Meanwhile, many families who were victims of the 2020 wildfire are still living in hotels and other transitional housing.

"And so here we are, already almost three years post disaster, and folks are being told that they have to wait at least another year for these to come online," Crist-Dwyer said.

Jackson County Housing Authority, which will manage the park, has not responded to a request for comment. Nashua Builders could not be reached for comment.

This story has been updated to include the name of the manufacturer.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.