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FEMA Eyes Talent School Property For Trailer Housing Following Wildfires

Federal Emergency Management Agency
In January 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency installed several manufactured homes in Mill City following last year's Santiam Canyon wildfire. The agency plans to install similar units in Jackson County.

School officials in Jackson County are considering leasing a vacant field for developing the area’s largest temporary housing site after last year’s wildfires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has plans to install about 112 manufactured homes next to a couple of softball fields on Colver Road, a property owned by the Phoenix-Talent School District. Representatives with the agency — along with county and state officials — held a virtual town hall Thursday night to discuss the project.

The Almeda and Obenchain wildfires destroyed more than 2,500 homes on Sept. 8, 2020. Many are still homeless.

“We have 122 families that we need to house at this point and we’re really running out of options very quickly for that,” FEMA representative TJ Dargan said during the town hall. “So that’s why there’s a real sense of urgency to move forward with this.”

To move forward, the school district needs to submit a proposal to the county. The application process will last at least another two months.

If approved, the temporary housing could be there until as late as March 2022. That’s when FEMA ceases to fund disaster assistance: 18 months after the federal government officially declares a disaster. Oregon’s Major Disaster Declaration was issued on Sept. 15, 2020.

When the temporary housing project ends, FEMA would return the Colver Road property to the school district. Families would have the option to buy the manufactured homes from FEMA so they could relocate the units elsewhere.

So-called “FEMA trailers” have a rocky history following Hurricane Katrina, when they were found to contain dangerous levels of the toxic chemical formaldehyde. A few attendees at the virtual town hall raised concerns about it. Dargan said he had expected to hear “the f-word” but reassured them that the trailers would meet federal and commercial housing standards.

Still, he added that the trailers wouldn’t be tested for formaldehyde. They would come with instructions advising people to routinely air out the homes by opening windows, doors and cabinets.

Jackson County Planning Manager Shandell Clark said county staff will undergo a 30-day “completeness review period” once it receives a permitting application from the school district. Once they deem the application complete, it’ll take another 35 to 40 days for them to issue a decision. Then they’ll mail notifications to property owners within 750 feet of the property. Those neighbors can comment or appeal the staff decision, but the project would move forward regardless of an appeal.

The proposed layout for a temporary housing project on Colver Road in Talent.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
The proposed layout for a temporary housing project on Colver Road in Talent.

FEMA representatives showed a proposed layout of the project. At 112 units, it would be the largest temporary housing site in Jackson County. FEMA has so far put families in 23 manufactured homes in White City, 23 travel trailers at an RV park in Gold Hill, and 45 travel trailers at an RV park in Central Point. It has also provided rental assistance to 1,083 households.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Human Services is paying space rent for people living in RVs, including 26 families at a park near Ashland and 39 families at a park in Central Point.