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Farmworker Housing Due For Independence

INDEPENDENCE -- Construction on a 38-unit, $6 million housing development for farmworkers may begin this summer off Gun Club Road. Officials from the Farmworker Housing Development Corporation (FHD

INDEPENDENCE -- Construction on a 38-unit, $6 million housing development for farmworkers may begin this summer off Gun Club Road.

Officials from the Farmworker Housing Development Corporation (FHDC) have scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony on the 3.7-acre site at 3 p.m. on June 25.

The announcement follows a two-year hiatus in the creation of Colonia Amistad, which drew concerns from some local residents when it was first announced in July 2004.

Progress stalled because of funding issues and plan revisions, said Roberto Jimenez.

"Our goal is to assist farm workers," Jimenez said. "They are the lowest-paid segment of the working population and usually can't afford market-rate housing."

FHDC will own and manage the complex while Newberg-based CASA will serve as building consultant. Pending the building permit process, work on the project would begin by mid-summer and end by next July, Jimenez said.

Colonia Amistad will consist of 38 duplex or townhouse units located in 18 buildings and a playground.

Developers have also planned a community center for the residents which would house a computer lab, vocational training programs and language classes.

"Once people move in, we will try to get them to a point where they can go out and purchase their own homes," said Kathryn Ross, project grant writer.

The tentative rent on those dwellings is $400 for a two-bedroom unit, $495 for three bedrooms and $580 for four bedrooms.

To qualify, families must earn only 40-60 percent of Polk County's median income -- $43,311, according to the U.S. Census. And more than half of that total must come from farm work.

The average farm worker in Oregon makes roughly $14,000 a year, the Oregon Employment Department said.

Jimenez said the project was delayed when FHDC was omitted from the previous funding cycle of the Oregon Housing and Community Services, a state agency which offers financial assistance for the creation and rehabilitation of dwellings for poverty-stricken families.

"The need for affordable housing far outstrips the resources we have," Jimenez said. "So we have had to compete with private industry and other not-for-profit corporations."

Colonia Amistad will be paid for with a combination of grants, loans, and federal and state tax credits, he said.

FHDC has also tried to work with neighbors concerned about traffic problems on Gun Club Road and the removal of a large stand of oak trees to make room for the new buildings.

The site is just south of Monmouth Street and just east of Central High School.

Planners reduced the total number of units from 42 to 38, revised the layout to spare the savanna and increased the buffer space between Colonia Amistad and nearby properties.

Jimenez said the project is vital because of a severe lack of affordable housing for low-income farm workers in the Willamette Valley, including 4,600 in Polk County. FHDC has a waiting list of 300 for its Nuevo Amanecer complex in Woodburn and another 150 for Colonia Libertad in Salem, which was completed last year.

Jimenez said some of the residents of the latter development work in Polk County and would gladly move to Independence if given the chance.

He said his organization would work with local social service agencies, schools and growers to find potential occupants. FHDC is obligated to have 10 families move into the complex by next summer.

For more information about Colonia Amistad: Roberto Jimenez at 503-981-1618.

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