FEMA extends housing aid for fire survivors as Santa Rosa offers home loans to eligible Coffey Park fire victims

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Displaced survivors of the 2017 North Bay wildfires relying on federal housing assistance will be able to stay in temporary homes a little longer than expected, but they’ll have to start paying rent to Uncle Sam.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified local officials this week that it was extending a temporary housing program provided to residents whose homes were among the thousands destroyed in October 2017 by a spate of deadly fires in the region.

Of the 119 Northern California households enrolled in this program, which connects fire survivors with apartments or RVs, about 100 are in Sonoma County, according to federal and local data. Almost all were renters before the fire.

The temporary housing was set to end April 10, but FEMA’s extension — requested in January by local leaders and then in March by multiple members of Congress from California — means the federal agency will provide housing to owners of fire-destroyed homes through July 10 and renters through May 10.

However, while survivors can continue to occupy the temporary housing, they’ll have to start paying rent to FEMA after April 10. Rental payments will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration a household’s financial situation.

A FEMA spokeswoman said 23 of the Northern California households in the program plan to move to permanent housing before April 10, with most still searching for long-term homes of their own.

Given the expensive Sonoma County rental market, local officials had asked FEMA for a six-month extension while they came up with a long-term housing plan for the dozens of fire survivors in temporary housing. City spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said Santa Rose was grateful for the extension but “we would certainly have hoped for more time” for the households who haven’t found long-term housing.

“If there was something viable and available, they would already be re-housed by now,” she said.

Separately, Santa Rosa recently launched a program offering home loans of up to $100,000 to certain Coffey Park residents who lost homes in the October 2017 fires.

These funds are available as low-interest, deferred payment loans meant to cover gaps between a homeowner’s available money and the total cost of a rebuild project in cases when home insurance doesn’t cover enough. The program is only available for residents whose household earnings are at or below 80 percent of the adjusted local median income — $78,550 for a family of four — and who intend to occupy the home after it’s built.

The money comes from a $1.2 million grant from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Loans will be made on a first-come, first-served basis, city officials said. The deadline to apply for a loan through the city is April 15.

Applications and more information about the Coffey Park program are available at srcity.org/RebuildingFinancialAssistance.

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