State housing department reacts to concerns over 2020 wildfire grant funds

SALEM, Ore. – Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) is reacting to Jackson County Commissioners concerns over the administration of the Community Development Block Grant following the 2020 wildfires.

As NBC5 News reported last week, the board of commissioners is asking the state to review and audit grant funding designed to help the community recover from the Almeda and South Obenchain fires. One of the commissioners concerns is over the process OHCS uses to choose who receives funding.

OHCS responded Wednesday to NBC5 News’ request for comment saying it is the agency’s job to ensure money goes to the needs of survivors impacted by wildfires across Oregon. Additionally in the best interest of Oregonians and Oregon’s recovery, OHCS says its priority is to protect funding.

As part of that process, OHCS developed the ReOregon Action Plan after gaining public comment during the summer of 2022. Under this plan, the needs of Jackson County’s Latino/a/x community, which the agency says was impacted most by the 2020 wildfires, were prioritized.

In its statement to NBC5 News, the agency expresses its own concerns saying, “OHCS is concerned the lack of Latino/a/x representation on the Jackson County Selection Committee hinders the goal of an equitable recovery.”

Additionally the agency stresses that it will not be taking a 30% administrative fee from the Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Revitalization (PIER) funds, which was another concern highlighted by the board of commissioners.

OHCS says all of the PIER money will be spent on “projects and activity delivery costs incurred by project leads or sub recipients, not the agency.”

Read Oregon Housing and Community Services full statement below:

As the administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) disaster recovery funding, OHCS’ role is to ensure the money serves the needs of wildfire survivors in the affected areas of Oregon. The federal government sets specific requirements states must meet to receive funding. When these requirements aren’t fulfilled by our partners, we face tough decisions. We prioritize protecting funding because it is in the best interest of Oregonians and is crucial for Oregon’s recovery. OHCS has been transparent with the process, and our expectations clear. 

In summer 2022, OHCS staff conducted extensive public hearings in the areas most affected by the 2020 Labor Day wildfires and straight-line winds as part of HUD requirements for the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery. Members of the public and partners were invited to attend. Two sessions, including one in Spanish, were held in Jackson County. OHCS collected input at those public hearings to inform the development of the ReOregon Action Plan, which HUD approved. The ReOregon Action Plan prioritizes the needs of the Latino/a/x community in Jackson County, which bore the brunt of the disaster’s impact and faces unique challenges in recovery. Its implementation is heavily guided by addressing these specific needs. Given this, OHCS is concerned the lack of Latino/a/x representation on the Jackson County Selection Committee hinders the goal of an equitable recovery.  

The agency is not taking a 30% administration fee on the Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Revitalization (PIER) Program funds granted to ensure all funding reaches communities impacted by the wildfire disaster. All of the PIER funds granted are expected to be used for projects and activity delivery costs incurred by project leads or subrecipients, not the agency. We thank the Jackson County Selection Committee for its work on recommending the current list of projects. OHCS will review and move forward eligible projects for funding awards. 

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