Long-term recovery group focused on more new homes

File photo by Marcy Stamper Jim Armstrong, left, and Mark Thompson, experienced volunteer builders from North Creek Presbyterian Church in Mill Creek, Washington, installed windows last July at a house on Finley Canyon. The house was completed and dedicated at the end of January.

File photo by Marcy Stamper

Jim Armstrong, left, and Mark Thompson, experienced volunteer builders from North Creek Presbyterian Church in Mill Creek, Washington, installed windows last July at a house on Finley Canyon. The house was completed and dedicated at the end of January.

By Marcy Stamper

The LTRG dedicated four more houses at the end of January in the Methow Valley, Pateros and the Chiliwist, more than halfway to finishing its first phase of rebuilding.

The organization expects to complete another five houses by the end of March, including one for a family of seven, according to executive director Carlene Anders.  Last year the LTRG dedicated two stick-built houses and three manufactured homes, which house a total of seven individuals and families.

The house dedications included rituals tailored to the inhabitants, music and food. One homeowner played a Native American flute, a Mennonite choir sang, and another homeowner made hundreds of tamales to share with the volunteers and other supporters, said Anders.

Rebuilding, part 2

The LTRG met last week to begin mapping out its second phase of rebuilding — 10 stick-built and five manufactured homes. That will complete the houses the LTRG is building for survivors of the Carlton Complex Fire, who are slated to get three manufactured and five stick-built homes. The remaining seven homes will be for survivors of the 2015 Okanogan Complex Fire.

“Everyone who met the criteria and wanted a home and had a clear title to property got a home,” said Anders. Some people who fit the recovery group’s criteria were offered homes but declined them because of health issues, relocation, or an inability to wait a year for a home, she said.

Those who receive homes from the LTRG sign an agreement that it will be their primary residence for at least five years. Some homeowners contributed labor or materials themselves.

In developing recovery and rebuilding plans, the LTRG and its partners are following disaster-relief guidelines set by the IRS, according to Beth Stipe, executive director of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.

“We can’t just hand out checks to everyone. There is means-testing,” said Stipe. Some people may earn too much money to get a house rebuilt, but they are eligible for volunteer help and other programs, she said.

The LTRG cannot build a house for anyone who doesn’t have a clear title to property. It also does not rebuild rental property, said Anders.

Helping renters who lost their homes remains the most difficult piece of the recovery, said Anders. “As far as I’m concerned, the renters are the hardest thing. Many were at a point in life were they were trying to get somewhere, and the fire was a big setback,” she said.

The LTRG currently has four case managers working with people affected in both 2014 and 2015. The organization has already closed 124 cases from the Okanogan Complex, but is still working with another 150 individuals and families, said Anders. Since starting in October 2014, the organization has handled more than 700 cases.

The disaster case managers can help renters with personal property and tools, but many of these people are still staying with friends or family and don’t have a place of their own, said Anders. Some have been helped through the unmet-needs group with donations of a month’s rent, said Anders.

“The disaster case managers are not only supporting people after what happened in the fires, but there could be long-term needs outside of that,” said Stipe. “It’s a really complex web of piecing together various support systems.”

Disaster case managers are still working on dozens of cases for the Carlton Complex, some opened a full year after the fire as people realized they couldn’t recover on their own, said Stipe. “We’re not running out of people to help,” she said.

The money

Since donations began coming in to various groups after the Carlton Complex Fire, the LTRG (expanded last year to encompass the Okanogan Complex) has taken in almost $1.09 million, according to Anders. It has $730,000 in the bank.

Contributions were often earmarked for certain disasters or demographic groups. As of the end of 2015, the Community Foundation, which is handling the donations, had received $820,000 for the Carlton Complex ($350,000 spent), $750,000 for the Okanogan Complex, $360,000 for Chelan, $50,000 for the Sleepy Hollow fire in Wenatchee (all spent), and $75,000 for tree-fruit workers in Brewster and Pateros (all spent), according to Stipe.

The LTRG has contributed $97,000 directly to rebuilding, with another $450,000 contributed by the volunteer organizations, mostly church groups and religious organizations. That money was spent on building supplies and appliances.

The biggest donors of labor in phase 1 were the Christian Public Service team (a program of United Church of Christ — Mennonite), Mennonite Disaster Services and volunteers from the North Creek Presbyterian Church, many of whom have been working here for months.

In 2015, $176,000 was spent to pay contractors and other administrative costs for the LTRG. That includes three full-time positions: Anders, the reconstruction project manager, and a volunteer coordinator; a part-time development/communications consultant, and a stipend for a bookkeeper.

The contractors and disaster case managers are paid through unrestricted funds from the Community Foundation and by grants and donations received for this purpose. The wages and overhead are not coming out of donations received to help fire survivors, said Anders.

The unmet-needs roundtable — groups such as Room One, the Salvation Army and religious organizations — which meets almost weekly, has given out more than $300,000 to fire survivors around the county. They still have between $400,000 and $500,000 to distribute, said Stipe.

About $130,000 of the unmet-needs monies have gone to infrastructure and site preparation for the houses being built by the LTRG. Infrastructure costs have run from $3,000 to $15,000, said Anders.

The LTRG set out to complete the first 14 homes by June, so it is ahead of schedule and also under budget, said Anders. The organization budgeted $110,000 per home, which included up to $20,000 for site preparation, but most houses cost less, largely through lower materials costs. Virtually all the construction labor was donated, although the LTRG paid specialized tradespeople such as electricians and plumbers.

Because it was able to complete houses for less than predicted (about $78,000 for the house alone), the LTRG plans to pay for site preparation in phase 2. It estimates that each stick-built house will cost a total of $92,000. Manufactured homes will cost less, said Anders.

The LTRG already has $480,000 pledged for phase 2, enough to cover almost half of the homes, but still need to raise $500,000, said Anders. She anticipates that other costs of about $165,000 will be picked up by the unmet-needs group.

The LTRG estimates that the entire rebuilding and recovery will require $4.3 million. The organization is more than halfway there, having raised $2.2 million. That total includes contributions and in-kind donations of building materials and appliances from the volunteer groups, many of which have raised their own money.

CCAN

The Carlton Complex Assistance Network (CCAN) has also been active in helping survivors since the summer of 2014. CCAN has focused on people who live off the grid or in more remote areas, according to Ronda Bradeen, its vice president and business manager.

“Our goal has always been to do the things not covered by other organization or agencies — the unmet unmet needs,” said Bradeen.

To that end, CCAN has focused on distributing tools, lumber and garden equipment. It has also helped with site preparation and some rebuilding, said Bradeen.

CCAN has raised about $100,000 through grants, cash contributions and in-kind donations of material such as lumber, she said. CCAN is part of the unmet-needs roundtable and works with disaster case managers.

This spring CCAN will concentrate on a subsistence program to help people stretch limited incomes. CCAN will help with gardens, chicken coops, fishing poles and canning supplies — things that have been an integral part of people’s lifestyle and survival, said Bradeen.

Case managers

The LTRG currently has two case managers assisting survivors of the Carlton Complex Fire and three for survivors of the Okanogan Complex. The case managers divide their time between offices in Twisp, Pateros and other locations around the county and in Chelan.

The two case managers working with survivors of the Carlton Complex are expected to be available through June, when the LTRG anticipates they will have wrapped up their cases. Two others will continue to assist people with losses from the Okanogan Complex.

For more information or an appointment, survivors of the Carlton Complex Fire should call Hayley Riach at (509) 923-1979. Survivors of the Okanogan Complex Fire should call Jessica Martin at (509) 846-5101.