The 2020 wildfire season burned more than 1.2 million acres in Oregon spanning eight counties (Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, and Marion). Combined, the fires destroyed more than 5,000 homes and commercial structures.

Wildfires wiped out entire towns, especially in Southern Oregon, affecting already vulnerable rural and low-income communities, including undocumented workers and families already living in high-risk conditions. A preliminary assessment conducted by FEMA and the Oregon Office of Emergency Management estimates a total cost of $1.15 billion in wildfire and wind damage, response costs and debris removal.

Housing Oregon has been active in efforts to connect member organizations with State and Federal officials including participation on the Oregon Disaster Housing Task Force. At our Rural Policy Council meeting in February, 17 of our members met with representatives from Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) to provide input on the development of strategies for their Recovery Action Plan.

Key themes addressed included insuring outreach efforts connect with culturally specific community-based organizations and focusing on the needs of lower-income residents of manufactured housing parks. Participants also pointed out the need for longer-term regional housing strategies as well as using this opportunity to begin preparing affordable housing communities now for the next wildfire disaster.

The goal of the OHCS planning effort is to find permanent housing options for everyone affected by the wildfires. This may include providing case management to help families find interim housing solutions; bolstering local jurisdictions’ capacity for planning, zoning, permitting and land use approvals; aligning OHCS resources to expedite delivery of permanent housing solutions; and promoting IDAs and other asset building tools to build community and family financial independence.

Megan Loeb, with Oregon Community Foundation, met with the Rural Policy Council in November to explain funding opportunities with Project Turnkey. The Oregon Legislature allocated $65 million to acquire motels and hotels for use as non-congregate shelters for people experiencing homelessness divided in response to both wildfires and COVID-19.

Housing Oregon will continue to engage our members on this issue via our Rural Policy Council, which meets every other odd month, 3rd Tuesdays at 2 PM. For more information contact Brian Hoop, or 503-475-6056.