Feds award $212 million to help California recover from 2017 wildfires
California’s long-term recovery from last year’s devastating wildfires is getting a $212 million boost from the federal government, housing officials announced Tuesday, but it’s unclear exactly how much of the money will go to Sonoma County.
The grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will help disaster-affected counties in the state rebuild homes, businesses and infrastructure damaged in areas hardest hit by last year’s wildfires.
After a year marked also by devastating hurricanes, the grants are part of the largest single outlay of disaster recovery assistance in the department’s history, totaling nearly $28 billion, to be spread over nine states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the department said.
In California, about $124 million will go to addressing unmet needs in areas ravaged by disaster last year, while about $88 million will be earmarked for mitigating future impacts, according to the housing department.
Further details about how the funds will be distributed are expected when the department publishes rules to formally allocate them in the federal register, a move expected sometime “in the next few days,” said Ed Cabrera, a San Francisco-based spokesman for the housing department.
Sonoma County doesn’t know exactly how much of the funding it is in line to receive, but Michael Gossman, the deputy county administrator who heads the county’s new Office of Recovery and Resiliency, speculated the ultimate amount would be a large share of the total reserved for California.
“The reality is that, as devastating as the fires were in Southern California and the other counties, nobody lost as many homes and impacted as many families and people as it did in Sonoma County,” Gossman said.
“I think we’re in a good position to get a significant chunk of it.”
County officials have previously said they wanted to use the federal funds to help create more affordable housing, purchase land for new rentals, create granny units in existing neighborhoods, support permanent supportive housing for homeless people and tackle water and sewer projects in unincorporated areas, among other projects.
The county lobbied federal officials in an attempt to receive the disaster funds directly, instead of seeing it passed first to a state agency, likely the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
“We want local control of the money,” Gossman said. “(But) we have a good working relationship with the state, and we’re optimistic and positive that we can work with them and put this money to its best use.”
Cabrera said it remains to be seen exactly how the funds will be distributed to counties. He noted that California housing and community development officials generally distribute this kind of grant money.
“It’s anticipated they will play some role, but how extensive or limited it is, is still a big question mark,” Cabrera said. “It may be that they’re just a pass-through entity and this is going directly to affected areas.”
Evan Gerberding, a spokeswoman for the state housing department, said she, too, was waiting for the federal register to see how the funds would be allocated to counties.
If her department is responsible for that distribution, Gerberding said the next step would be to sit down with representatives from the eligible counties and start planning with them.
“They know their communities and their challenges better than anyone,” she said.
In the meantime, Sonoma County officials are looking to hire a consultant who can help them complete a “needs assessment” that will determine exactly how they want to use the federal grant funds, Gossman said. The consultant should be hired within a few weeks.
Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González contributed reporting. You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or email@example.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.