An effort to bring 71 manufactured homes to Kern County for families displaced by the Erskine Fire got support Tuesday from the Kern County Board of Supervisors.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is selling the homes to the state of California, which would transport them here, said Kern County Emergency Services Manager Georgianna Armstrong.
They would go to uninsured property owners whose homes were destroyed in the fire.
But, Supervisor Mick Gleason said, the county must figure out how to determine who gets the homes, how they will be installed, and how all regulations and building codes will be met before they are turned over to victims.
Neither the state nor county has done it before, Armstrong said.
But when FEMA rejected a request for disaster assistance for Erskine Fire victims, Gleason said, this came up as a way to help those completely devastated.
The next steps for the county are two-fold, Armstrong said.
It must design — and the supervisors must approve — a program laying out rules for bringing in the homes, distributing them and ensuring they won’t be misused.
Armstrong said the county is also encouraging uninsured homeowners to sign up for state help in cleaning up debris from their property. The deadline is Sept. 6.
A FEMA home can’t be placed on a property that hasn’t been cleared and the work can cost a homeowner up to $50,000, she said.
Fire Chief Brian Marshall said the fire destroyed 284 homes and roughly 100 were uninsured.
“This is an exciting project that will help our citizens who were devastated by the Erskine Fire get back to some level of normalcy,” he said.
Armstrong said she’s talked to 47 homeowners since last Tuesday. Many of the uninsured were having to decide between putting food on the table and paying for utilities or getting fire insurance.
Right now, she said, they are scattered across the area moving from home to home, living in hotels if they have vouchers, or they have moved out of the county temporarily while discovering what they will do.
There aren’t many rentals in south Lake Isabella, Armstrong said, and many who lost homes had inherited the property and can’t afford to rent.
“What I hear over and over is, ‘I want to go home,’” Armstrong said.
But the county, Gleason said, has to make sure it is doing the most good with FEMA homes.
Single moms, handicapped citizens and seniors have all been impacted by the blaze, he said. People in the most need should get the homes first, he said.
The county, Gleason said, has “got to make sure someone doesn’t come in and take the home and rent it out to try and make money on this.”
County leaders will also need to make sure the homes are installed and brought up to current building codes.
“We have to certify all the concrete, piping, septic,” he said.
Ultimately, if the property owners sign a contract to accept the home and live in it for three years, Gleason said, they get the keys at no cost.
At the same time, Gleason said, the county has to be very aware of its budget situation and attempt to limit costs it might incur.
“The impact to our general fund — right now — is zero. And our effort is to keep it at zero, is that correct?” Gleason asked Marshall.
“Yes,” Marshall said.