Anonymous donation boosts construction of 15 new homes

Photo by Marcy Stamper A group of volunteers from the Central United Protestant Church in Richland, Washington, was in the Methow Valley for the second time this year to work on rebuilding projects. Last week they installed insulation and drywall for someone whose house burned in the Carlton Complex Fire.

Photo by Marcy Stamper
A group of volunteers from the Central United Protestant Church in Richland, Washington, was in the Methow Valley for the second time this year to work on rebuilding projects. Last week they installed insulation and drywall for someone whose house burned in the Carlton Complex Fire.

By Marcy Stamper

A $275,000 contribution from an anonymous donor who saw TV news reports about the devastation of two summers of wildfires in Okanogan County was the windfall the county’s recovery group needed to start construction on all 15 homes in its second phase of rebuilding.

The donor had made a smaller contribution in the past but, after seeing a report by Seattle-based KOMO News this spring about homes, livestock and fencing destroyed by the fires, the individual called to find out how much the Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) needed, said Carlene Anders, the group’s executive director.

The LTRG received a check one week later, bringing the total raised for phase 2 total to $1.35 million, the group’s estimate for materials and supplies. About one-third of that has already been spent as construction on the first homes in this phase gets underway.

The eight stick-built and the seven manufactured homes will provide housing for two dozen people whose homes burned in the Carlton Complex and Okanogan Complex fires in 2014 and 2015. With eight of those homes going to people made homeless in the Carlton Complex Fire, the rebuilding for 2014 survivors will be complete, said Anders. The remainder of the homes will replace those burned in the 2015 Okanogan Complex Fire.

All Carlton Complex survivors who received a home in the first round have moved in. The 14 houses in phase 1 were completed by this June, although a few properties are still getting solar upgrades, said Anders.

Most of LTRG’s housing recipients are individuals or couples, many elderly or disabled, and all with significant needs for assistance, said Anders. A few are younger couples with children. All meet strict requirements set by the recovery group.

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, which manages the recovery funds. People who earn too much money to get a house rebuilt may still be eligible for volunteer help and other programs, she said.

Housing recipients must have a clear title to their property and sign an agreement that the house will be their primary residence for at least five years. The recovery group is not able to rebuild rental property. Renters who lost their homes have often had the hardest time recovering from their losses, said Anders.

One of the homes under construction in the second phase is in the Methow Valley; several are near Pateros and Brewster; and others are near Riverside, Tonasket and the Tunk Valley. Two homes are in Chelan, funded by contributions to the Community Foundation earmarked for survivors there, said Anders.

LTRG volunteers have poured all but three foundations for phase 2 and expect to pour the others — as well as have the houses dried in and ready for interior construction — before the winter, said Anders.

As in the past, the actual construction is being done primarily by volunteer groups, most affiliated with a faith-based charitable organization.

Different functions, different funds

Donations to help fire survivors are handled separately from the recovery group’s operating costs, staff and overhead. Operating expenses are covered through March 2017, but LTRG projects it will need to raise an additional $290,000 to finance operations for the remainder of next year, according to Anders. In addition to Anders, LTRG has a reconstruction project manager, a volunteer coordinator, three disaster case managers and a bookkeeper.

The LTRG still convenes regularly with the unmet-needs roundtable, which disburses funds for smaller projects and rebuilding costs that can’t be covered by the main rebuilding funds. Once the requests have been vetted and presented by the LTRG’s disaster case managers, participating charities determine who can cover a need, which can include replacing burned tools, helping survivors with transportation costs, and utility infrastructure for the new homes. LTRG has covered $250,000 in unmet needs to date, said Anders.

Phase 2 homes are scheduled to be finished in the summer of 2017, with several manufactured homes already nearing completion. Because the houses are almost entirely dependent on volunteer labor and some groups that have worked here in the past have been deployed to other parts of the country, they are looking for more volunteers, said Anders.

“The real challenge is having crews on the ground, ready to work, in the right expertise, every week. It is like a huge 3D puzzle to get it all done and we aren’t exactly sure when or by whom it will all get done,” said Anders by email.

The recovery group is budgeting for 15 homes for the third and final phase of rebuilding, which will most likely begin next summer. At least 15 people who lost homes in the Okanogan Complex are expected to meet the criteria to be offered a rebuild, but they have not selected the individuals and families yet, said Anders.

Several partners who have worked with the LTRG throughout the rebuilding campaign are already working on capital campaigns to help fund phase 3, said Anders. The primary partners are the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church and North Creek Presbyterian Church, based in Mill Creek, north of Seattle.

The LTRG is currently recruiting volunteers for building teams for the coming winter and spring for projects such as drywall and insulation. For more information or to volunteer, contact volunteer coordinator Kathy Power at (509) 429-8304 or Anders at (509) 733-0318. People can also email carltoncomplexrebuild@gmail.com.