News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Recovery tale driven by numbers, dollars

This is part of a September package on the third anniversary of the 2020 wildfires looking forward to the challenges ahead. Previous stories can be found at www.canyonweekly.com

 

The wildfires that burned wide swaths of the Santiam Canyon approximately three years ago have produced a striking set of numbers. Numbers that folks can use to assess their losses as well as numbers that show the extent of efforts  to help the Canyon recover.

And numbers, particularly in dollar figures, show how delays and bureaucracy have produced stiff challenges for those working on the recovery.

Here is a big number: 470.

That number represents the number of primary homes lost, both to homeowners and renters, in Lyons, Mill City, Gates, Detroit and Idanha as recorded by Santiam Hospital’s Santiam Disaster Services group.

The count includes housing in both Marion and Linn counties, although more than 80 percent of the losses were in Marion.

The figures show that 109 families who were renting have recovered, that is, they are safe and sound in new housing. 

A total of 155 homeowners have recovered and another 92 renters and homeowners are in the process of recovery and being case-managed by Santiam Disaster Services. 

Add up those three figures and you get 356, or 114 households short of the 470 total loss figure.

Melissa Baurer of Santiam Disaster Services notes that because property owners in that cadre of 114 have not registered for case management with her organization it remains unclear at what stage in their recovery they might be.

“We do still have the ability to register if any of the 114 households are not complete with their rebuild and need case management services,” Baurer said.

Santiam Disaster Services provides case management assistance to Canyon residents under a contract with the Oregon Department of Human Services.

“Our goal,” Baurer said, “is to help each survivor rebuild/relocate so they may have permanent stable housing as long as funding is available to access for rebuild-relocate expenses.”

Funding

Money to assist Santiam Canyon residents recover and rebuild has come from a wide variety of sources.

Some of the major funding sources include:

• Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund (SCWRF) had distributed approximately $3.5 million toward rebuilding and recovery as of Aug. 7.

• The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency has distributed approximately $4.9 million via its wildfire resiliency recovery account.

• The Oregon Department of Human Services had distributed approximately $889,000 as of June 30.

• The Santiam Long Term Recovery Group has spent approximately $509,000 through its unmet needs committee.

Two sources of funds remain largely undistributed, which Baurer said has left “survivors feeling frustrated.”

Marion County officials announced in March that $12 million was available to help families rebuild. The money represents one of the largest single infusions of wildfire recovery funding to date.

“This is likely the biggest news for Santiam Canyon wildfire recovery efforts since the fires were put out,” Deana Freres, board president of the Santiam Long Term Recovery Group, said at the time.

The funds came from Marion County’s  share of $150 million in Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS)  allocations, part of the $150 million in funding approved by the Legislature as part of House Bill 5006, a supplemental state budget appropriations measure that took effect July 1, 2021.

Unfortunately for Canyon residents looking to rebuild, it took from April 2021 to March of 2023 to iron out differences between the state and the county on how to allocate the funds, a process Marion County Commissioner Danielle Bethell described as “long and grueling.”

The stumbling block was agreeing on what income levels would be required to be eligible for the money.  

Originally, OHCS only wanted to serve those at up to 80 percent of area median income, or AMI, which is approximately $54,500. 

The county held out for 120 percent of AMI, or $81,500, because officials wanted to help as many families as possible.

County officials hoped, at the time of the March announcement, that the $12 million would be enough to take care of the remaining 92 case-managed households. It hasn’t turned out that way, at least not yet.

According to Baurer, Marion County finally was able to open the application process on July 6. Since that time 5 applications have been received. 

One, calling for the expenditure of $97,500, was approved. One was denied and is being reviewed under a protest protocol. Three other applications are pending.

Another potential windfall of recovery funds is the $422 million pool of money the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released to Oregon for use as disaster recovery community development block grants. 

The program, called ReOregon, aimed to provide new permanent housing in the areas statewide impacted by the 2020 fires.

According to Baurer, a Federal Register notice in February 2022 outlined the steps required to access the funds, but the application process still has not been finalized.

“They have not issued a launch date but are hopeful to have something in place by December 2023,” Baurer said.

The Numbers

Total homes lost: 470

Renters’ homes recovered: 109

Marion County: 99

Linn County: 10

Detroit: 21 

Gates: 45

Lyons: 29

Mill City: 14

Owners’ homes recovered: 155

Marion County: 133

Linn County: 22

Detroit: 21 

Gates: 48 

Idanha: 3 

Lyons: 72

Mill City: 11

Total households recovered: 264

In case management: 92

Unknown outcomes: 114

Source: Santiam Disaster Services

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