Affordable Housing Offers Hope for Farmworkers

By Violeta Trevizo

Advocates and nonprofit executives from across Texas are flocking to Austin this week for the annual Farmworker Housing SummitGuadalupe Economic Services Corporation of Lubbock is one of many organizations that will be represented at the summit.

Led by Executive Director Diana Lopez, the company’s main mission at previous summits was to promote the Vista Rita Blanca Apartments, an affordable housing community allowing farmworkers to live in respectable conditions in Dalhart, Texas, about three hours north of Lubbock.

The Vista Rita Blanca complex was created to house farmworkers. Picture provided by the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation.

The Vista Rita Blanca complex was created to house farmworkers. Picture provided by the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation.

Lopez said the idea for the apartments came to her as she watched the poor living conditions of farmworkers and their families. In one of the worst cases, 20 people shared a mobile home because a $900-a-month apartment was unattainable.

“Housing seems to be something that is very difficult to achieve,” Lopez said. “It’s not accessible to a lot of people because it’s expensive. It’s out of the market for some people.”

Held by the Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers on April 26-27, the summit highlights state policy on multifamily housing developments in rural Texas. It has become increasingly challenging to sustain communities based on agriculture economy, according to the affiliation’s website.

The summit also offers access to several grants, including the federal Rural Community Development Block Grant, aimed at helping low-to-moderate-income populations in small cities and rural communities develop the necessary infrastructure to grow and thrive.

The Dalhart community is just one of many successful projects helped by the Farmworkers Housing Summit. Other funds that come through the program provide services to over 365,000 low-to-moderate income beneficiaries each year, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

New and continued projects will be showcased and proposed in Austin this week, and the grants awarded will continue to help the agriculture-based communities in Texas.

The growth of Guadalupe Economic Services is a case in point. Originally a health-based corporation, it expanded into other causes, such as education and housing, Lopez said.

“We’ve evolved, but we still want to make housing affordable for families who work in predominantly agriculture-based areas like Lubbock and West Texas, period,” Lopez said.

Henry Montez, who worked on the Dalhart apartment complex proposal, said the company hopes to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the housing community from 28 to 48 units and add 20 more in the future.

Montez, with more than 20 years of experience working with non-profits and housing developments, said the project received feedback from many people and the different views and opinions made a difference in the way it turned out.

“The sharing of ideas is what has made our work successful,” Montez said.

Amanda Hooten, Guadalupe Economic Services program developer for the Dalhart community, has worked closely with Montez and runs a blog to help farmworkers who do not speak English and those seeking to earn their GED. She is also developing financial literacy classes to help farmworkers eventually become homeowners.

“For most of our residents, that’s a long time coming, but it is something that we want to push,” Hooten said. “Eventually, you want to own your own home. You don’t want to stay in farm labor low-income housing for your whole life.”

An onsite library and a hygiene and diaper pantry are also in the works, Hooten said.

At the summit, Lopez is planning to show a video about her group’s progress in Dalhart and explain that further development is not only possible but necessary. Her passion reflects years of experience, which have convinced her that even the smallest effort to help is important, she said.

“If that one little thing were different for that person, how would their life change?” Lopez questioned. “Whatever it is, if they had money, if they had a vehicle, if they had that little thing that would make such a huge difference, their life would grow exponentially.”

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