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Farmworker demand displaces some renters

Sycamore View nears 100 percent farmworker tenancy four years after completion
by: John Brewington NOW RENTING — A young girl holds a baby outside the Sycamore View apartments Tuesday morning.

A federally subsidized Scappoose apartment complex constructed in 2007 with the purpose of providing low-income housing solely to farmworker families is now, four years after its completion, nearing its intended goal.

To make room for an apparent rise in farmworker demand to live at Sycamore View Apartments, renters who have no ties to agricultural business and who made up for the chronic vacancies there are being evicted.

Some are residents like Sean Wilcox, who moved into Sycamore View two years ago.

Wilcox, 24, said he received notice from apartment management that an increase in farm worker demand had resulted in a need for his apartment. He was told he would have to vacate it upon receipt of a 30-day notice.

He said the notification surprised him.

'I was surprised, yeah, because I've lived here for two years now and I haven't had any issues,' Wilcox said.

Of the 22 units at Sycamore View, all but three have been rented to farmworkers and their families, said Karen Shawcross, executive director for Bienestar.

Bienestar is the Hillsboro-based nonprofit that developed the Sycamore View Apartment Complex. Bienestar was formerly named Housing Development Corporation of Northwest Oregon when the farmworker apartments were first proposed and constructed.

Shawcross said apartment residents not connected to agricultural work were granted leases for only one year to live at the complex, and were notified in an addendum to the lease they would have to vacate the apartment if farmworker housing demand increased.

'There was a special addendum explaining [the lease] was good for year, but once it's up, if a farmworker family is on the list and is eligible, they would have to move,' Shawcross said.

Wilcox insists he never signed the addendum agreeing to surrender his apartment, and said he has enlisted legal counsel to challenge any effort to have him evicted. He also said he is aware of Hispanic families who do not work in agriculture and who have not received similar vacation notices.

'There are other families here who do not have agricultural jobs,' he said.

To qualify as a farmworker, residents have to earn a minimum $4,850 annually in agricultural work, Shawcross said. She said U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development regulators monitor the subsidized housing to ensure residency requirements are met, including performing property and file inspections every three years.

Farmworker residents pay no more than 30 percent of their income to rent the apartments. Unsatisfied rent payment above the 30 percent threshold is paid for through a USDA subsidy, Shawcross said.

Non-farmworkers had to earn less than 50 percent of the area's median income to qualify for residency at Sycamore View.

Housing Development Corporation of Northwest Oregon opened Sycamore View in May 2007. The apartment complex was originally named Los Arboles, which translates into 'The Trees' in Spanish.

Housing Development financed the complex via a $3 million loan from Rural Development, the housing arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A condition of using the loan was that tenancy would be restricted to farmworkers and their families.

Three months after opening, however, only two of the apartments had been rented out. Housing Development officials staged a bus tour of 45 Hispanic community leaders from Hillsboro in August 2007 with the clear purpose those leaders would pitch Scappoose's qualities to potential residents.

Later, in November 2007, Housing Development was facing a possible loan default and applied to the Rural Development for a one-year waiver to allow non-farmworkers to live at the apartments. The nonprofit continued to seek and receive the waiver until last November, when Shawcross said sufficient farmworker demand had been reached.

She said social workers with Community Action Team, the St. Helens-based nonprofit that assisted with the original 2002 market research justifying construction of the apartment complex, have been enlisted to help any displaced tenants find a new place to live.

From the Spotlight archive: Nov. 6, 2007

Los Arboles' owners apply for waiver

The Housing Development Corporation of Northwest Oregon applied for a federal waiver to open up a Scappoose apartment complex, formerly called Los Arboles, to low-income residents who are not farmworkers.

'We have applied for a waiver, and we haven't heard back,' said Karen Shawcross, executive director for the Hillsboro-based HDC.

A condition for using $3 million in loan dollars from Rural Development, the housing arm of the U.S. Department or Agriculture, is that tenancy at Los Arboles is restricted to farmworkers.

With few farmworkers applying to live at the subsidized apartments, HDC is seeking other options to fill it. Exactly how the waiver would work and who would be eligible to live in the apartments if the waiver is successful is unclear.