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New dawn at Nuevo Amanecer


The housing development that means “New Dawn” in Spanish has brought new life for Luis Cortez and his family.

Cortez and his wife, Alma Luvia, had been living with their three small children in a cramped studio apartment near Gervais before he qualified for one of 40 new units that were recently added in the fourth phase of Nuevo Amanecer, the $10 million Woodburn project that accommodates farmworkers and their families.

Dinner is almost ready and the smell and sound of fried fish crackling on the pan emanates from the kitchen.

“We were looking, but it was really hard to find,” said Cortez, 27, through a translator. “Everything was too expensive, but then we heard about farmworkers’ housing that was more affordable. We decided to give it a try.” by: PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONALD  - Alma Luvia and Luis Cortes moved into Nuevo Amanacer in April with two of their daughters, Brena, 8 and Yaretzi, 4. Not pictured: Jasmine, 2.

Cortez, resting on the living room couch with his family before a night shift picking blueberries at a farm in Silverton, looks happy and content with his new life.

Now settled in a two-bedroom apartment, Cortez and his family can start thinking about the future, he said.

“In the meantime, they want to enjoy what they have, work hard and save money,” said Juan Venegas, a translator and program leader for Farmworker Housing Development Corp., the Woodburn-based nonprofit that developed the project. “The long-term plan is to buy a house. He is thinking about his children.”

Housing is a key challenge facing farmworkers. There are an estimated 90,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers statewide, including more than 13,000 in Marion County, according to a 2013 update to a study by Alice C. Larson.

Many work in the food processing, field and nursery industries, driving a $5 billion ag industry while suffering from nominal pay, labor intensive work, lack of food and other benefits.

With 300 families on the waiting list, Cortez and others who qualified to live at Nuevo Amanecer are the lucky ones, said Roberto Jimenez, FHDC’s executive director.

“About 90 percent of the families who come to live at Nuevo Amanecer are technically considered homeless,” he said. “They are typically living in a labor camp, living in a car or living under a bridge.” by: PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONALD - Roberto Jimenez, executive director of Farmworker Housing Development Corporation, stands in front of Nuevo Amanecer, which just added 40 more housing units.

FHDC has 276 different housing units around Marion and Polk counties, including 130 at Nuevo Amanecer, Jimenez said.

Residents must pass income restrictions based on financial need and the head of household must be a current, retired or disabled farmworker, he said.

Residential status is not on the list of criteria, he said.

“If they’re homeless or at a risk of being homeless, they move to the top of the list,” he said.

The scene at Nuevo Amanecer is like any other residential neighborhood. Kids play in the streets. The ice cream truck makes regular stops. A community garden includes a full staple of arugula, spinach, tomato and other healthy crops.

The development is a magnet for upwardly mobile farmworkers who always want more for their children than they had themselves, Jimenez said.

Unlike other affordable housing developments, residents who live at Nuevo Amanacer are either employed or have been employed as farmworkers. That is not the case for most affordable housing projects, Jimenez said.

Another difference is that residents at Nuevo Amanecer take their housing as an opportunity for advancement in society. “The goal is to stabilize working families, give them access to education and food which they didn’t have before," Jimenez said.

The goal also is to get families into market rate housing and ultimately into homeownership, which allows other families in need to take their place, Jimenez said.

To do this, Nuevo Amanecer offers programs in homeownership and citizenship, as well as youth programs for early childhood literacy and after school and summer programs, which help working families raise their children in a healthy environment. Most of the roughly 400 kids at the development attend local schools and speak English as a first language, Jimenez said.

Another resident, Jorge Corona, arrived in Woodburn from Guanajuato, a town in central Mexico, in 1995. Corona, who works at a food processing plant in Canby, has about three different seasonal jobs per year, he said. In the 18 years in the country, he has developed English, had three children with his wife Estella Calderon, and never went back, he said. by: PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONALD - Jorge Corona and his family recently rented a 3-bedroom apartment at Nuevo Amanacer: (From top down) Jorge Corona, Estella Calderon, Sarely, 12, Jesus, 9 and Daniela 8

In April, the family moved from a two-bedroom apartment in on Cleveland Street in Woodburn, he said.

"In the old apartment, things never got fixed and were always breaking,” he said in English. “It was very hard for us.”

Additionally, his kids were getting older and were all crowded into one bedroom, he said.

Now, the family’s 9-year old son, Jesus, gets his own separate bedroom from his two sisters, Sarely, 12, and Daniela, 8.

What housing has provided is peace of mind and an opportunity to plan for the future, Corona said.

“Now we are low-wage, but someday is going to be (my) lucky day,” he said. “I don’t know when, but in the future, I’m going to buy a house. It all depends on getting a steady job.”

Sarely, who attends Valor Middle School, likes living in the development because there are more friends to hang out with, she said.

Jesus likes playing soccer with other boys, he said.

Corona’s wife, Estella Calderon, said she appreciates the lunch and summer programs that FHDC offers.

“Also, management-wise, they make this place look nice and clean,” she said. “This is the best place I’ve had in my whole life."

The neighborhood is safe and rarely registers a blip on the police radar, said Mayor Kathy Figley. She credited FHDC for keeping up the property and doing its best to fight poverty in the area.

“They have done a great job of getting people out of their cars and substandard housing into a decent place to live where they have a chance to improve themselves,” she said.

Figley also cited the programs at Nuevo Amanecer for giving residents the opportunities they need to improve their lives.

“(FHDC) has been really praiseworthy in walking their talk,” she said. “They have been a great property management company. They have spent the extra funds and do some great programs. It’s really a matter of mutual interest for us at the city. We know that they’re meeting a need.”