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Rogue Valley Officials Plan For Temporary Housing For Fire Victims

Brandon Swanson
A partially burned American flag flutters in the breeze in front of the remains of a mobile home in Talent, Ore., on Thursday, Sept. 10. More than 50 mobile homes in this park were completely destroyed by the Almeda Fire, which came through the area Tuesday.

Officials in Talent, Phoenix and Jackson County are quickly drafting plans for where to put temporary housing for the thousands of people displaced in the Almeda Drive Fire.

One of the main ideas, according to Phoenix Mayor Chris Luz, is acquiring properties where residents can live in RVs and trailers. Luz recently met with local developers, bankers, and planners and says they’ve agreed to help for free.

“They’re not out to make a buck. They’re seriously looking at providing temporary housing for individuals, not making a buck through building permanent structures,” Luz says. “They would donate the land at no charge and allow people to live there for as long as they have to.”

So far, three parcels of state land in Talent and Phoenix have been identified by planners, as well as two others in Talent that are privately owned. Luz says properties could potentially be developed for trailer hookups five acres at a time, and expanded according to demand.

“Once the land is found, there’s money to buy people RVs or mobile homes,” Luz says, citing $2 million that has been raised by Rogue Credit Union.

Fire clean up and home rebuilding is expected to take years. Transitional housing would be an intermediate step between the current emergency housing in motels or shelters and permanent structures.

“We’re looking at all options because we know we have lots of people who are going to need to be housed in transitional housing. Our strong desire is to bring those people back to their communities,” says Sandra Spelliscy, city manager for the City of Talent.

By the end of October, city officials hope to make zoning rule changes to accommodate temporary RV parks. Spelliscy says some of the properties being considered are outside the county’s urban growth boundary in what’s known as urban reserve – areas intended for city growth decades in the future.

Each city in Oregon has designated urban growth boundaries and urban reserves to prevent sprawl and protect farm and forest lands.

“They [officials] are going to be looking at some emergency changes to regulations that would allow cities to look at land that is outside their urban growth boundary but within an identified urban reserve to house temporary housing,” Spelliscy says.

Phoenix Mayor Luz says the infrastructure will be temporary and once the transitional housing is no longer needed, the currently vacant private land will be vacated again.

After a transitional housing plan is established, officials will turn to discussions of a long-term housing recovery plan, according to a spokesperson with the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center.

“The world will look different when town is rebuilt and we hope that it will look different in a better way,” Spelliscy says. “But still in a way that provides for our community and the kind of community that we had before.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.