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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Melissa Lebarre-Empson and Tom Empson stand in the kitchen of their new mobile home in Ashland. The couple are helped by an additional $ 45,000 state grant administered by Access.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Melissa Lebarre-Empson and Tom Empson stand outside the back door of their new manufactured home. The couple are helped by a grant that has helped pay for infrastructure expenses.

Ashland couple’s replacement prefab home nears completion thanks to help from Access and neighbors

With the help of a state forgivable loan program and a southern Oregon nonprofit, Tom Empson and his wife, Melissa Lebarre-Empson, are almost home.

The Empsons’ double-width prefabricated home at Bear Creek Mobile Home Park in Ashland, which will replace the single-width they lost in the Almeda fire, is about a month from being ready to move into.

Compared to the 22-foot travel trailer they have lived in for most of the past 13 months, they described their new home as “like a palace.” They have barely had separate bedrooms for over a year.

“We’re going to have to put bells on each other,” Empson joked.

“No, don’t come find me,” said Lebarre-Empson cheerfully.

As optimistic as they are now, the Empsons almost left southern Oregon for good in a five-figure surprise.

In August, about a month before their manufactured home was delivered, the Empsons learned they would have to pay about $ 48,000 more for “infrastructure” expenses such as the driveway, plumbing, awnings and roofs. stairs to their new home.

“It was to the point that if we didn’t find help, we were just going to bounce back,” Empson said. “We were just going to leave the area.

They found a major lifeline with a state supplemental loan program administered by the local nonprofit Access.

The Oregon Housing and Community Services Subsidy Loan Program covers up to $ 35,000 for infrastructure costs on a single manufactured home and up to $ 45,000 for a double home.

The $ 50 million loan program was funded by the state legislature, according to a previous news article.

“They could only get us $ 45,000, but hey, that’s better than nothing,” said Lebarre-Empson.

Access Housing director Joe Vollmar said the Empsons were one of the first families the nonprofit helped connect with the additional OHCS grant administered by the new center. Access for Community Resilience in downtown Medford.

In total, the center is helping around 60 fire survivors gain access to the property.

“We expect to be able to serve a number of families,” said Vollmar.

Neighbors of the Empsons encouraged them to contact Access at a Zone Captains Program meeting in September via Zoom.

“Through all of this, we’ve learned that you really need to stay close to our community,” said Lebarre-Empson.

About 40% of Ashland Park residents who lost their homes to the fire are returning. The Empsons said many of their neighbors had also alerted residents to programs such as a grant from the Oregon Department of Energy that would cover much of the cost of replacing their heat pump.

“We’ve lost so many more who couldn’t afford to come back,” said Lebarre-Empson. “We all feel the need to get closer.

Before their unexpected construction bill, the Empsons thought they could replace their home without the help of any public program. They thought they had a good fire insurance policy, and after years of retirement, Lebarre-Empson found full-time work at Shop’n Kart.

“Our situation was unique,” ​​said Lebarre-Empson.

Vollmar said the programs and resources available have certain eligibility requirements, but there are no minimum requirements for a fire survivor to seek Access from a fire counselor. lodging.

“We can work with anyone,” Vollmar said.

Staff at the non-profit organization closely examine the needs and financial situation of the fire victim, determine what they are entitled to and help “fill that gap”.

“Some people have a much bigger gap,” Vollmar said. “We are open to all avenues to provide assistance to the survivors of the fires. “

Fire survivors who need assistance should call 541-414-0318 or visit For more information on the Center for Community Resilience, see

Lebarre-Empson said she checks her house at least once a week. Seeing him come together brings tears of joy.

“It’s amazing. I actually have a knot in my throat that it’s really going on, eventually,” said Lebarre-Empson. “Someday we can go up those stairs and say, ‘This is ours.’ “

Contact web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @MTwebeditor.

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