Butte Fire Victims Must Move Out of FEMA Housing Units or Pay Rent

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CALAVERAS COUNTY -- The Butte Fire's destructive flames took down hundreds of homes in Calaveras County and left countless residents homeless.

To help victims survive, FEMA stepped in.

At the height of the Butte Fire there were 30 FEMA manufactured housing units given to survivors around Calaveras County. Now there are only 15 left. The occupants in those 15 units have a choice; either stay in the MHU and pay rent or move out.

FEMA spokesperson Kelly Hudson said the temporary units are only free for 18 months after the disaster declaration.

"The goal is to help them map out a plan so they can get back to some normalcy," Hudson said.

The assistance program expires March 22, but an extension allows homeowners to live in their MHUs until September 22. As of April 1, they have to pay a fair market rate based on the number of bedrooms and location.

"They're wanting me to pay $849 a month, which I only get $895, so it makes it really difficult," said Kandi Zelmer, who lives in a unit.

Her neighbor and fellow survivor Camille Green said, "It is two-thirds of my income, that's just too much."

Hudson said occupants were given the chance to appeal the rent rate.

"We would work with anyone who could show proof based on their income they were not able to make that payment," Hudson said.

Green, who has been living in an MHU since January 2016, said paying rent now is a financial burden, but it doesn't come as a surprise.

"It's frustrating, and it's hard for everybody, but we were told this, that was the deadline, it's on the paperwork," she said.

Green said her new home in Mokelumne Hill will be finished in May and if FEMA doesn't lower her rent she'll be out sooner.

Zelmer said because of health issues she hasn't had luck securing a permanent home. She'll also continue living in the MHU.

"I own land, it was my sanctuary for most of my life, but it's not livable at this point," said Zelmer.

After the extension expires on September 22, anyone still living in an MHU will have to move out according to FEMA.