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For Northern California fire victims, FEMA extends housing assistance

People line up outside the FEMA hub at 427 Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa on Monday, October 16, 2017. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

GUY KOVNER,

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended its temporary housing assistance program to Dec. 7 for people displaced from their homes by wildfires in eight counties, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino.

FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance program pays the hotel and motel bills for people who cannot return to their homes in the wake of a disaster.

The agency covers the cost of the room and taxes, but not incidental room charges or amenities, such as telephone, room service or food.

Scheduled to expire Friday, the program was extended for four weeks based on a request from state officials that cited “a lack of rental or other temporary housing space,” according to a memo from FEMA assistant administrator Alex Amparo.

A FEMA website said Tuesday that 3,732 applications for individual assistance, including the housing program, had been approved at a cost of nearly $8.7 million.

The program also covers Butte, Nevada, Yuba and Orange counties.

“We do our best to accommodate their needs,” FEMA spokesman William Lindsey said, referring to disaster survivors.

Those needs can change, he said, noting the case of a man who had been staying with relatives until he could no longer handle the domestic ruckus.

Sonoma County supervisors have agreed to let FEMA place factory-built homes for transitional housing at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The federal government will lease 80 existing RV spots at the fairgrounds and officials have authorization from supervisors to add 120 more spaces.

Lindsey said the agency is “pre-positioning” the manufactured homes in case it cannot find enough rental housing, apartments or hotel rooms for displaced residents, especially in Sonoma and Napa counties where available housing is “very sparse at this time.”

People who have been displaced by the recent fires may sign up for FEMA help at the Local Assistance Center open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at The Press Democrat building, 427 Mendocino Ave. Survivors may also apply online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by phone at 800-621-3362 or (TTY) 800-462-7585.

Lindsey urged displaced residents to register with FEMA and to “stay in touch with us, let us know what their needs are.”

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.