The Marshall Fire destroyed nearly 1,100 homes in southern Boulder County on Dec. 30, 2021. Credit: Anthony Albidrez

Boulder County Commissioners on Tuesday, May 17, approved a contract with Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains to help run the county’s Marshall Fire “recovery navigators” program, established to support fire survivors in the thick of rebuilding and recovery after the disaster. 

The program will connect survivors with funding opportunities and guidance on the rebuild and recovery process through one-on-one counseling. It is expected to be up and running as soon as the middle of June and continue for one year. 

Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains is a faith-based, human services organization in Denver. The nonprofit “walks with the vulnerable, through services that heal, strengthen, and provide hope,” according to its mission statement. It has provided disaster response services in the state going back to the late 1990s, including after the October 2020 East Troublesome Fire.

The agency will hire, train and supervise recovery navigators, who will help people access financial resources, rebates, legal services, mental health support, insurance assistance and more as they navigate the complex and costly process of rebuilding their homes and lives.

The contract is for $1.4 million. About $1 million of that will be paid out of the Boulder County Wildfire Fund, which became the main conduit for donations in the wake of the most property-destructive wildfire in Colorado history. The fund is being administered by the Community Foundation Boulder County.

The remaining $400,000 will be paid by the county. 

There was no bidding process for the contract. A waiver indicates that Lutheran Family Services was the only provider willing and able to perform the work. 

“In order to determine what organizations were interested and available for this work, Boulder County staff discussed the draft scope of work at a Disaster Case Management Committee of Marshall ROC (Long-term Recovery Group)” meeting, the waiver states.

“At that meeting only one non-profit organization, Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, indicated they were interested in applying for and managing these funds. This conversation confirmed there is a sole source willing and able to provide these services who already provides services within Boulder County.”

Lutheran Family Services will hire, train and supervise recovery navigators, who will help affected residents access financial resources, rebates, legal services, mental health support, insurance assistance and more. Courtesy: Community Foundation Boulder County

During the Board of County Commissioners meeting on May 17, Commissioner Matt Jones asked why the county was not running the program itself. Katie Arrington, Boulder County’s recovery and resiliency project manager, responded that disaster recovery case management historically has been provided by nonprofits, not local governments. “Lutheran Family Services also has the model to ramp up staff quickly,” she said. “So it’s a much quicker turnaround to provide services to individuals with Lutheran Family Services than it would be if we had done it internally with the county.”

Nearly 1,100 homes in the City of Louisville and the Town of Superior were destroyed by the Dec. 30 disaster. The losses have been devastating, made worse by rampant underinsurance. According to the Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI), about $1 billion in losses have been submitted for home insurance claims. Of the 951 total loss claims analyzed by the DOI, only 76 – just 8% – had guaranteed replacement coverage policies that would allow for the rebuilding of homes of similar quality and size with no cap.  

It remains unclear how many people intend on rebuilding their homes. 

The recovery navigators program is a first step in an effort led by the Community Foundation to dispense the Boulder County Wildfire Fund in ways that make it easier for people to rebuild in Boulder County. The goal is to hire six to nine navigators, the foundation has said.

A massive amount of money, especially for a local climate disaster, has poured into that fund. As of May 9, it had raised more than $40 million from about 77,000 donors. To grasp the scale of that aid, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had approved just $1.5 million in direct grant assistance to Marshall Fire survivors as of mid-February. 

After immediately dispersing about $8 million to people affected by the fire, the Community Foundation announced in March that it would target the majority of the remaining money toward homeowners who have decided to rebuild their homes.

The majority of the Boulder County Wildfire Fund will go toward rebuilding homes in Boulder County. Courtesy: Community Foundation Boulder County

Sometime after the recovery navigators program is launched, up to $20 million for rebuilding will begin to be made available to these households, based on an estimated formula that assumes 75% of survivors will rebuild. That would be an almost unprecedented outcome if it happens. The Community Foundation’s CEO, Tatiatiana Hernandez, has said 25% is the national average in the wake of such disasters. According to the foundation, this funding “will be made available by initiating the process with navigators.”

Another $2.5 million will be dispensed for the “unmet needs” of survivors. This money will be given to renters, the uninsured and others to help with everyday expenses. It is not restricted to those staying in the county, unlike the $20 million for rebuilding, Hernandez has said. 

Arrington of the county said the Marshall ROC Long-Term Recovery Group is working now to secure funding to rent real estate for a recovery storefront. Navigators would be located there, as well as available virtually and to meet people at their home.

“Our hope is that in the next two weeks or so we will know if they have the funding for that storefront,” she said. 

Read the full statement of work for Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains:

Stacy Feldman

Stacy Feldman is the founder and publisher of Boulder Reporting Lab. She previously co-founded and was executive editor of Inside Climate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit newsroom covering the climate emergency. She was a 2020-21 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she developed the concept for BRL.

John Herrick

John Herrick reports on housing, climate, health and local government for Boulder Reporting Lab. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness.