For the past three months, CZU Lightning Complex fire survivors that were ineligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rental assistance have been able to stay at hotels throughout the county with daily provided meals.
As of Nov. 30, 41 people were still using the county’s program. County officials expect the program to sunset on Tuesday, Dec. 8, once again leaving survivors scrambling for shelter.
“These extensions are FEMA’s decision, as they fund the program,” Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said. “Every other county, perhaps with the exception of Butte, has already ended their shelter program. Case managers are helping to transition survivors to rental properties that FEMA provides rental support for, but you must have a rental property, which is obviously difficult given our housing crisis.”
For CZU survivors like Jamie Perkins, difficult is an understatement.
“We live with uncertainty as to when this voucher program will end. We are looking every day for a permanent place to live, however there are very limited options and nothing affordable,” the San Lorenzo Valley native said. “Housing in California, especially Santa Cruz County, is a challenge on a good day. With the fires, it’s become even more difficult to obtain. I have gone to open houses to look at possible rentals and found that 50 to 100 people have applied for the same apartment.”
Perkins has also considered living in an RV, like the one she and her brother purchased for her mother to limit her Covid-19 exposure. However, even mobile housing is a struggle, as “most of the RV Parks require the RV to be 10 years old or newer, have a waiting list, are too expensive, or are closed due to Covid,” she says.
Perkins, like many, is “very grateful for all the support we have received.”
“Our nightmare from the fire hasn’t ended,” she said. “Santa Cruz needs more affordable housing and we need members of the community who have a place for someone to live or park an RV or trailer to live in to please allow an evacuee to rent.”
According to Hoppin, the county is also pursuing more opportunities for CZU survivor rentals.
“We’re going to put out a call to landlords soon, to see if they have any space to open up some other rental possibilities for people before the housing program ends,” he said.
The county also urges survivors to persevere in filing claims with FEMA.
“It’s a difficult process to navigate,” Hoppin said. “Some receive letters that look like denials but they’re requesting more information …. FEMA has again pushed back their deadline to file for assistance to Dec. 11, so there’s more opportunity for survivors to apply for assistance.”
FEMA spokeswoman Briana Summer Fenton said survivors should register with the agency even if they have home or renter’s insurance.
“We may cover uninsured losses,” she said. “Each case is different and survivors will know what they’re eligible for in the determination letter. After registering with FEMA, we recommend [survivors] register for a Personal Online Disaster Assistance Account, to check for messages and application status, update contact information, and upload documents.”
Register at FEMA online at disasterassistance.gov, download the FEMA app and register on your smartphone or tablet, or call 800-621-3362. The registration deadline is now Friday, Dec. 11.