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FEMA Grants Temporary Housing Aid To Oregon Following Wildfires

Rent signs near a mobile home park in Phoenix that was entirely destroyed by the Almeda Fire.
April Ehrlich
JPR News
Rent signs near a mobile home park in Phoenix that was entirely destroyed by the Almeda Fire.

Oregonians in Jackson, Linn and Marion counties who lost their homes to wildfire could receive federal housing assistance in the coming weeks.

State officials are still working out the details about what that temporary housing might look like.

“It may be in the form of rental assistance; it may be in the form of mobile homes that [federal officials] bring in,” says Oregon Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Paula Negele. “That has not been determined yet.”

To get assistance, people need to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency by November 16. This information will help FEMA officials determine how much need there is in each community.

More than half the homes lost to Oregon wildfires this summer are in Jackson County, where the Almeda Fire destroyed more than 2,300 homes. So far only 500 people there have registered and qualify for FEMA housing assistance.

People can also find housing assistance through the American Red Cross by registering online or calling 800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767). Red Cross representatives are also available in-person at Phoenix Elementary School.

Red Cross Relocates Shelter Evacuees To Hotels

Immediately following the Almeda Fire on September 8, hundreds of people sought indoor shelter at the Jackson County Expo fairgrounds. The Red Cross closed the mass shelter early this month while relocating evacuees to hotels. The Red Cross has provided 175 hotel rooms to house 300 people, according to Jackson County Emergency Manager John Vial.

The Red Cross continues to manage sheltering at the Expo, where 90 people are residing in their personal recreational vehicles. At a press conference Wednesday, Vial said the RVs have connections to water and electricity, and the county sends a truck to empty their holding tanks. The county is working with a nearby RV park to house additional trailers.

On Citizenship And Federal Housing Aid

Many of the homes destroyed in the Almeda Fire belonged to Latino families. Some of these families have expressed concerns about registering for FEMA aid.

One concern is that receiving federal disaster assistance could result in a public charge against someone’s citizenship status. According to the Department of Human Services website, disaster relief is not a benefit that would count as a public charge.

In many cases, families may qualify for disaster assistance if at least one member of the family is a U.S. Citizen.

Some people are also concerned that FEMA, an agency of DHS, might share their information with other DHS agencies, like the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“FEMA does not proactively share any applicant information with other organizations in any kind of regular routine or expected way,” says FEMA public information officer Lynn Kimbrough. “Sometimes we do work with other agencies to provide the actual assistance to survivors, so we are sharing information within the disaster assistance process.”

Kimbrough says “only in a rare circumstance” would FEMA share people’s information with an agency that’s not working in disaster relief.

If FEMA Denies Your Application, Try Again

Some people who apply for FEMA assistance may get a letter saying they are ineligible for assistance, but according to FEMA officials, these denial letters might not be “the last word.”

“A quick fix, like providing more information, may change FEMA’s decision,” reads a September 23 press release.

For instance, someone might get a letter requesting more information about homeowner’s insurance. FEMA can’t cover damages that are covered by homeowner's insurance, but it may be able to cover other costs.

“FEMA programs are designed to support you in ways where your insurance may not fully meet your needs,” says spokesperson Toby Rice. “So one example would be if you have insurance that covers additional living expenses — perhaps that provides you with the ability to pay rent for an apartment if that's available — that may not cover the entire period where you're out of a home and that home is being rebuilt or replaced.”

Applicants can also appeal their denial for federal disaster relief.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.