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Farmworker Housing Proposed

Complex considered along Gun Club Road

INDEPENDENCE -- Farmworkers who struggle to make ends meet in the fields and orchards of Polk County could have a place to call their own by next year.

Plans are currently underway to construct a $6 million, 42-unit housing development on a roughly 3-acre parcel of land at 30 S. Gun Club Road in Independence.

The non-profit Farmworker Housing Development Corporation (FHDC) will be sponsoring the project, which will offer low-income farmworkers in the area the opportunity for affordable year-round housing and access to education and social services.

The housing community would be the first of its kind in Polk County, said Roberto Franco, FHDC executive director.

"We know there are many farmworkers in the area, working in the vineyards, in the hops that are still living in labor camps," he said. "All of those factors, combined with market studies, show there's a need for housing that we want to help meet."

FHDC developed the 102-unit Nuevo Amanecer community in Woodburn almost a decade ago, and just recently broke ground on the 48-unit Colonia Libertad in Salem.

Newberg-based CASA of Oregon, which builds, rehabilitates and manages similar properties across the state, will act as the development consultants for the proposed Independence facility.

Julie Garver, CASA project manager, said construction could start by 2005 if the two organizations can secure all of the necessary funding - including grants and tax credits through the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department.

Franco said the opportunity to expand into Polk County arose this spring. FHDC purchased the Gun Club Road site after another developer's plans to erect a traditional apartment complex fell through.

There's a severe shortage of affordable housing facilities for the 4,672 farmworkers that live in Polk County, Garver said.

More than half of the 219 available public housing units in the county are reserved for the elderly and disabled, and only eight of the remaining 103 give preference to farm laborers, according to a CASA rental survey.

Only two farmworker families currently reside in those units; the rest are unaffordable without Section 8 assistance.

"There's 526 people on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers," Garver said. "If you're applying for the places that give preference but don't have a voucher, you're pretty much out of luck."

The final design of the development will consist of a mix of two-, three- and four-bedroom duplexes and rowhouses, each with its own yard space.

The project will also feature a community center that will host educational programs and support services for adults and children.

"We want to be able to provide those extra amenities that most people take for granted and that farmworkers don't have access to," Garver said.

Garver said the development would be constructed to blend in with the surrounding neighborhoods.

"The design of projects have come a long way in the years, with more attention given to how buildings fit in with the community."

In order to qualify for the units, heads of each household or co-tenants must be farmworkers, and the household must fall within a certain income level, no more then $25,000 annually, depending on the number of wage earners.

The median family income in the county is roughly $50,000.

According to the Oregon Employment Department, area farmworkers average about $14,000 a year.

Garver said an important factor to the success of the development is the blessing of local citizens.

CASA representatives will be holding a public meeting at 7 p.m. July 22 at City Hall to address community concerns and show the project site plans and layouts.

"That's one thing that we feel strongly about," Garver said. "We want the people of Independence to feel comfortable, both in and outside the project."

Franco said the development would ultimately help farmworkers, after a couple of years, transition into buying their own house.

"This gives them a place that lets them get on their feet...until they can afford to move out and purchase a home of their own.

"We really think of it as providing the tools to help them help themselves."

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