Mr. David Bibo, Acting Associate Administrator Office of Response and Recovery
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street SW
Through: Mike O’Hare, Regional Administrator Federal Emergency Management Agency, Region 10 US Department of Homeland Security
130 228th Street SW
Bothell, WA 98021-9796
We are writing to request FEMA’s continued consideration, and approval of, the State of Oregon’s request for a Direct Housing Assistance option for Lincoln County, Oregon, due to the devastation wrought on our community by the Echo Mountain Complex Fire. This option must be included along with other assistance alternatives and resources to fully meet needed housing for victims of wildfires in Lincoln County.
On October 2, 2020, the State of Oregon formally requested FEMA to approve Direct Housing Assistance for six of the eight Oregon counties with a federally declared disaster (Jackson, Linn, Marion, Lincoln, Douglas and Lane). On October 7, FEMA responded with approval for Direct Housing Assistance for three counties (Jackson, Linn, Marion) and indicated that the agency “will continue to evaluate whether these is a need to approve any additional counties.”
During the week of September 7, 2020, The Echo Mountain Complex Fire wiped out approximately 300 housing units in the Panther Creek area of North Lincoln County. Many other homes suffered significant damage to water and septic systems and remain uninhabitable. A significant number of the properties destroyed were pre-2004 vintage manufactured homes. Some of these were occupied by lower-income senior citizens. Many provided residences for workers in the hospitality/service industries in Lincoln City who could not afford to live with the city limits.
The American Red Cross Cascades Region has stepped up to house most of the fire-impacted individuals in motels in the greater Lincoln City area, as most had no other housing resources available to them. As of this writing, six weeks after the fire, the Red Cross reports that only a handful of the individuals who they have been housing and feeding have been able to transition to other living arrangements. As of Monday, Oct. 19, they had 299 individuals still temporarily placed in motel rooms.
We understand that rental assistance for many individuals and families who were victims of the fire was very recently increased to 125% of fair market rent (FMR). We thank you for that recognition of the high cost of rentals in our area and the supplemental support you have provided. We hope to hear soon how many families are able to use that assistance to find temporary housing, but we are concerned that there still is a very limited availability of rentals at any price in our tourism based housing stock.
As previously stated, many of these individuals and families are low income. Many were renters and many of those who owned their homes were either uninsured or underinsured. These people have been suddenly thrust into a market where there was already a critical shortage of decent, safe and affordable rental housing. Real estate and property management professionals in the county have said for years that our rental vacancy rate is less than one percent. Even with assistance at above fair market rates there is simply no place for all these people to go once the Red Cross concludes its mission here.
There needs to be additional options available to accommodate the expected need. To the extent that having identified sites for placement of FEMA manufactured housing or other housing is an important element in your decision-making process we want to assure you that county elected leadership and staff has already been working on this question, and multiple potential sites in the greater Lincoln City area have been identified.
If there is additional information Lincoln County can provide to help make our case, please let us know, and please know we stand ready to work with FEMA, Oregon Emergency Management, city leadership and others to provide this most fundamental need for our vulnerable citizens.
Thank you for your consideration of our request.
Kaety Jacobson, Doug Hunt, Claire Hall – Lincoln County, Oregon Commissioners
cc: US Senator Jeff Merkley
US Senator Ron Wyden
US Representative Kurt Schrader Governor Kate Brown
Senator Arnie Roblan
Rep. David Gomberg