PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sticking around in Oregon for families impacted by the 2020 wildfires, but starting in April, it will no longer be free.
Oregon requested an extension from FEMA to allow residents to remain in the shelters longer than originally planned. The housing was set to expire mid-March, but has now been extended to September 15.
People who continue to stay in the FEMA housing between April 1 and that date will be required to pay fair market rent prices in their county on the unit they’re occupying.
“It’s been rent free up until this time to allow survivors to try to get back on their feet, get jobs, get anything that they need to truly start making their recovery. But as of April 1, we will start requiring rent,” explained Tim Manner, federal coordinating officer for FEMA Region 10, which includes Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Idaho.
FEMA is currently providing direct temporary housing for people in Jackson, Lincoln, Linn, Marion and Lane counties.
Direct temporary housing comes in many forms. The government can lease property, lodging or housing for survivors. It can form an agreement with owners of multi-family housing and provide funding to repair the housing and get it up to code for survivors to live in. It can also provide manufactured housing or RVs for people to live in.
The rent payment system for FEMA works backwards from traditional rent payment systems. While the rental period begins on April 1, residents won’t be expected to pay until May 1. Payment is due within 30 days. If an occupant doesn’t pay, they’ll receive a 15-day warning in writing from FEMA. If they continue to not pay, FEMA will begin its revocation process.
The fair market rent prices in each county are based on data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development. For example, the fair market rent value of a one-bedroom unit in Lincoln County is currently listed as $877 per month. A two-bedroom is $1,102 and a three-bedroom unit is $1,556.
If a household can’t afford the rent, it can make an appeal to FEMA.
Manner said FEMA will look at post-disaster income for anyone in the household over the age of 18. The agency will also take into account other expenses the applicant is paying, such as a mortgage, and will then determine if their rent can be lowered.
The Oregon Office of Emergency management said anyone who can’t afford their rent should work with their disaster case manager on their appeal.
Local community action agencies can also help with rent assistance, housing counseling and housing placement.
Households that earn less than 50% of the median income in their area will only be required to pay $50 a month for rent, once the appeals process is completed.
Manner said the state has the option to ask for another extension if it needs FEMA direct temporary housing after Sept. 15. The extension can be granted again and there’s no limit as long as the state can justify the need.
“They’re not extended for 2 years at a time,” Manner said. “They’re very, very short periods of time. So, folks understand that this is not a permanent housing solution. This is disaster housing, trying to get on the road to recovery.”
Between Feb. 15 and March 4, 19 households have moved out of FEMA housing. There are currently 178 FEMA units occupied in Oregon.
Manner said FEMA loves to see this number go down. He hopes more people will be able to move out of FEMA housing and into something more permanent in the next 6 months.
So far, FEMA has provided about $38.5 million in individual assistance to Oregonians since the September 2020 wildfires. It has also provided about $355 million in public assistance.
FEMA said it plans to continue communicating with occupants regularly about any changes and important dates.
Manner said there are housing committees, social services organizations and state resources all working together to help wildfire survivors find long term housing.