Renovation comes to Farm Worker Village

Since 1974, the original section of Farm Worker Village has been home to innumerable farmworkers in Immokalee. Other units followed: B (1978), C, D, E, and Collier Village (from 1983 through 2000). There a total of 641 units. single, duplex and quadroplex at the site.

On February 4, interested persons gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking for long overdue renovations at the site, using USDA Rural Development funds ($9.2 million grant/loan ($5,263,246 grant and $4 million loan).

According to Collier County Housing Authority Executive Director Oscar Hentschel, some renovations have taken place in the past, such as reroofing, but nothing near as extensive as this construction.

The units most in need will be completely destroyed and new ones built. Some units are getting air conditioning, electrical upgrades and/or bath fixtures. The loan portion will be paid back at one percent interest, by renters through CCHA.

The funds will modernize some 315 units lacking simple amenities like air conditioning and handicap accessibility as well as updated appliances, cabinets, counter tops, windows, doors and bathroom refurbishment. The oldest units will be demolished and replaced.

From Executive Director Hentschel at the local level to USDA Rural Development State Director of Florida Richard Machek, one by one those intimately involved with this project got up to speak to the crowd.

The day was noted at some of the highest levels of government. Enrique Padron attended on behalf of US Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and a letter from US Senator Bill Nelson was read by Rebecca Vaccariello, attorney and CCHA board member. Senator Nelson called the effort ”laudable.”

The event also highlighted the unique role Collier County Housing Authority has with so many low income families. This improvement in housing is expected to also inspire the next generation to make its mark.

Executive Director Hentschel said that “We’re still on a mission” to provide decent housing for those who help feed the country and the world. The renovations are to be completed in 2017.

Senator Richter sent a letter from Tallahassee thanking those involved for their positive effort to improve the quality of life of future farmworker families. It is a model of what can be done in Immokalee, he noted.

USDA Area Director for Rural Development Michael Botelho introduced his boss USDA State Director Richard Machek. Mr. Machek is over a 20 county area and described the renovation as a “win for Farmworkers of Immokalee.” Mr. Machek was appointed to his position by President Obama in 2010.

He is a sixth generation Floridian who spent eight years in the Florida House of Representatives. He commented on his family’s long experience in agriculture, having farmed in Florida since the 1930s.

He recalled farmworker housing in the ‘50s and ‘60s in Immokalee, which looked much like the rest of agricultural Florida. Since then, he said, a lot has been done. He said farmworkers are being afforded a chance to make a “place in life” and opportunity to “give back to others.”

Although the $9 million for this program was actually approved some ten years ago, changing government rules and regulations caused innumerable delays. He credited Immokalee’s Floyd Crews with continuing calls, not allowing the project to go by the wayside, leaving many people “left behind the 21st Century.”

Director Machek credited Mr. Botehlo with cutting through red tape to finally get this done. He added that politics is always involved in such a project – and politics change. With every change they had to start all over again, he said, adding, “I think we got past that.”

District 5 Commissioner Tim Nance noted that this day of celebration was possible because “nobody lost faith” and lauded the positive energy required to “drive through the nails, lay the bricks.” He also noted the “wonderful collaboration federal, state and local” officials adding that the county would do all it could to assist. He said Immokalee is truly the “heartland of Florida.”

Patty Brant, Publisher of the Immokalee Bulletin can be reached at pbrant@newszap.com

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