Oregon will rebuild defective modular homes for Almeda Fire survivors

By Jane Vaughan (Jefferson Public Radio)
MEDFORD, Ore. Aug. 31, 2023 7 p.m.

The state housing agency did not say when the homes will be rebuilt, where the funding will come from or when residents will be able to move in.

Modular homes at the Royal Oaks Mobile Manor site in Phoenix, Ore., in an undated photo. An Oregon state agency has committed to rebuilding the homes after they were found to be defective.

Modular homes at the Royal Oaks Mobile Manor site in Phoenix, Ore., in an undated photo. An Oregon state agency has committed to rebuilding the homes after they were found to be defective.

Jane Vaughan / JPR

Homes at the Royal Oaks Mobile Manor in Phoenix are prioritized for people who lost their residences in the 2020 Almeda Fire. Residents had been scheduled to move in this fall. But that was delayed in June when they were notified that the modular homes the state had bought for them had been found unfit to live in.

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Since then, questions have arisen about why the problems, which included leaking water and multiple code violations, occurred.

At a community meeting on Wednesday in Medford, Oregon Housing and Community Services announced that it will rebuild the defective homes, using a different manufacturer, rather than replacing them. But questions remain about the timeline and cost to do so.

“This is not a partial rebuild, it is not an aesthetic rebuild, it is a full rebuild with health and safety standards in mind,” said OHCS executive director Andrea Bell.

Oregon Housing and Community Services executive director Andrea Bell speaks at a community meeting in Medford, Ore., Aug. 30, 2023.

Oregon Housing and Community Services executive director Andrea Bell speaks at a community meeting in Medford, Ore., Aug. 30, 2023.

Jane Vaughan / JPR

OHCS did not say when the homes will be rebuilt, where the funding will come from or when residents will be able to move in.

At the meeting, many people expressed frustration that it’s been nearly three years, and they’re still living in temporary housing. David Leroy lived in the Coleman Creek Estates and lost his home in the Almeda Fire. He was originally selected to live in the new Royal Oaks, but now he’s unsure what happens next for him and other fire survivors.

“And my heart’s broken for them and myself now, you know? But what do we do? We just carry on. I hope everybody in here gets a home, myself included. Yeah, we’re living on hope and a prayer maybe, and that’s it, you know?” he said.

“This is three years. A long three years. A really long three years. We have disappointed, and I think that’s probably putting it nicely, disappointed you in this,” Bell said.

About two years ago, the state purchased 140 modular homes from Nashua Builders in Boise, Idaho, for about $26 million through the broker Pacific Housing Partners.

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The plan was to use 118 of those to rebuild Royal Oaks, which burned down in the Almeda Fire. The project broke ground in November 2022. The site will be run by the Jackson County Housing Authority.

When the homes were first delivered in the spring of 2022, there were questions about their quality.

“At that time, there were things that we saw on visual inspections that were issues,” Caleb Yant, deputy director of OHCS, said Wednesday.

About 70 people attended a community meeting in Medford, Ore., Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

About 70 people attended a community meeting in Medford, Ore., Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

Jane Vaughan / JPR

It wasn’t until April 2023 when the homes began to be installed on site that OHCS said they realized the extent of the problems.

“They’re just not constructed the right way. I didn’t see in situ damage from transportation as a major culprit,” said Toby White, vice president of Forensic Building Consultants, who did an inspection on some of the homes.

About 60-70 of the 118 homes are in Oregon, while the rest are still in Idaho. Those homes will not be delivered to Oregon. OHCS did not explain how it will replace those homes when it rebuilds.

According to Idaho’s inspection activity report, the homes passed inspection before their transfer to Oregon.

It’s unclear whether OHCS will be able to recoup the millions it spent to purchase the homes.

“While we pursue rebuilding [the homes], we are also pursuing recovering those costs,” Yant said.

At a meeting with stakeholders before talking with the public, OHCS was chastised for its lack of transparency and community engagement.

“There’s been so many broken promises,” said Kathy Keesee Morales, program coordinator at the Unete Center for Farm Worker and Immigrant Advocacy.

“You knew there were issues [with the homes], and then you signed people up for these units anyway,” said Ellie Holty, interim treasurer and secretary with Jackson County Long-Term Recovery Group.

The Rogue Valley has a severe housing shortage, and these modular homes are in high demand. So for fire survivors, the wait is still prolonged as the third anniversary of the Almeda Fire approaches.

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