Photo by Sarah Highfield
From left, Kelly Scalf, chief executive officer and general manager of Okanogan County Transit Authority; Chanelle Carlin, secretary of the Okanogan Chamber of Commerce; Dan Fazio, executive director of the farm labor assocation WAFLA; Denise Varner, Okanogan City Council member; and Nancy Nash-Mendez, executive director of the Housing Authority of Okanogan County, don hardhats to pose for a photograph near the future site of farmworker housing April 19.
As of Tuesday, May 1, 2018
OKANOGAN “Do you have housing for us?” seasonal farmworkers ask the Housing Authority of Okanogan County, director Nancy Nash-Méndez said.
“We say, ‘No, but we will.’”
Wafla, a non-profit Northwest farm labor association, expects its $45 million farmworker housing facility, “Riverview Meadows,” planned for 2425 Elmway St. in Okanogan, to be complete this fall.
Simplicity Hayden Homes broke ground in March, and on Thursday, April 19, wafla and community leaders gathered for a hardhat ceremony to celebrate the project.
“We hope to be open and helping farmers and farmworkers for apple harvest this year,” wafla executive director Dan Fazio said.
The garden apartments will include 166 beds, a recreation center with game tables and laundry machines, on-site manager’s unit and possibly a soccer field, volleyball courts and park tables, Fazio said.
The site, neighboring Caso’s Country Foods, has been approved for an additional 112 beds, which could be built privately or through a second state grant, wafla officials said.
A bed costs $10 per night – “a real steal,” Fazio said. The fee can be paid by the farmer or qualifying low-income worker.
“Guys that come up here from California, who may be living in their cars when they’re working cherry harvest or apple harvest – will now have a safe, affordable place to stay,” Fazio said.
City, county officials express support
Donning wafla hardhats, Okanogan County Commissioner Chris Branch and Okanogan City Council member Denise Varner both expressed their support for the project.
“I’ve been around housing developments for a long time, and they don’t come without some controversy,” Branch said. “I’m glad the city got over it. I was glad to support it.”
Varner came to represent the City of Okanogan, as Mayor Jon. K. Culp had a previous engagement.
“We are just thankful wafla and the City of Okanogan have agreed to partner together,” Varner said. “Thank you, wafla, for joining our community.”
Other county and city officials in attendance included Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers and Undersheriff Joe Somday; Kelly Scalf, chief executive officer and general manager of Okanogan County Transit Authority and Chanelle Carlin, secretary of the Okanogan Chamber of Commerce.
To fund the project, wafla was awarded a long-term, low-interest loan of $3 million from the state Department of Commerce. The remainder of about $1.5 million will be funded privately, according to a press release.
The future Okanogan facility represents wafla's second facility built with assistance from the state department. Ringhold Housing opened in Mesa seven years ago to house nearly 100 workers who were living in cars or camping in unsanitary conditions on the Columbia River, walfa officials said.
Walfa says the project is much needed in Okanogan.
“…Migrant domestic workers are not interested in travelling to Okanogan County for seasonal work unless there is the promise of safe and comfortable lodging,” the farm labor association said.