December 11, 1991
By Yolanda Reynolds
Lack of housing, in particular low and very low income housing is acute in the Bay Area. Even now, during the “Recession,” housing costs have remained high. The average price of homes in the San Jose area is reported to be $224,000. Don Wolfe, Director/Local Government Affairs for the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Northern California, says that such home prices exclude 89% of the people form purchasing a home. He adds that generally home buyers in the Bay Area generally rely on two pay checks in order to own a home.
At a recent meeting of the BIA, Cesar Chavez explained to the group of home builders about the success that Chavez and his non-profit group have had in addressing the housing needs of farm workers in the Central Valley. Farm workers historically have had the worst housing available, if any is had at all.
Chavez and his group formed a non proﬁt tax-exempt organization. The National Farm Workers Service Center, whose objective is to build single-family and rental housing in rural California for low income farm workers.
Chavez says that the Service Center group make works with Redevelopment Agencies to help acquire land for housing and the requisite infrastructure (sewers, roadways, sidewalks, etc.) and also seeks out all available local, state and national assistance.
According to Chavez the homes that the Service Center has built are unique for low income construction and amenities were not sacrificed. Chavez explained that, just because these homes were built to house farm workers the homes did not lack central heating, and air conditioning, two car garages and large lots. In fact, they include such amenities as tile roofs, garbage disposals and dishwashers.
Chavez says that quality amenities and construction are important features so that the properties can appreciate in value, just as other houses do in the community. The price of the houses that Chavez and his group have built “start at $49,500 for models of 3 and four bedrooms.”
Chavez admits that these very affordable prices are probably not achievable in the San Jose are because of the high price of land. The homes that have been built by the Service Center are located in the Central Valley community of Parlier, “the West Fresno County town of Firebaugh (104 lot single family sub-division) and include a 45-lot subdivision in Avenal, an 81-unit apartment complex in Fresno and 56 unit complex in Tehachapi
Chavez said that, in Fresno, 90 percent of the tenants in the apartment complex earn “far below median income and that the rents are also “far below median income and that the rents are also below average for that city but that the amenities in these apartments are on a par with higher rent apartments.” He added that there no vacancies at these apartments.
Chavez explained how his group solicited and received support and cooperation front the hotel and restaurant unions who negotiated an employer 5 cent an hour set aside to fund a joint trust, in order to help hotel workers with new home purchases. The fund money can be used to help the new home buyers with down payment money, closing costs, bank costs, or help to secure more favorable interest rates for home owners.
The AFI-CIO also established a Union Member Mortgage program. Chavez said that, in three months alone, more than 1.200 union members obtained over $100 million in home mortgage ﬁnancing.
In addition to housing, the Service Center is also involved in community economic development. The groups first development was a 10,000 square foot shopping center in Parlier. The Service Center has since begun a second, larger commercial center as well as a number of other housing projects throughout the State.
Housing has been such a critical problem that a number of projects have been developed and have been very successful. One of these projects is located in Chicago’s West Garﬁeld neighborhood; the result of leadership of “Bethel method requires that everyone help including the opportunity to build “sweat equity” (by personal labor build equity towards the purchase of housing.”)
In West Chicago, Bethel Inc. is reported to have “rehabbed more than 450 units of housing and has about that many in the development stage in 1990” which by now should be a completed. Bethel Inc. also coordinates the administration of loans, a senior home repair program and coordinates the “sweat equity labor” on new construction.
The Bethel program is “holistic” and serves its community with many of the services that most citizens expect of city, such as senior care, community economic development, comfortable, safe, and affordable housing and education.
Bethel New Life, in each of its ten years of experience made major community improvements in Chicago. The program began with three modest $9,600 budget in 1979. That year, they remodeled a three-apartment building, developed activities for seniors and formed a food cooperative. Each year of its existence, the CDC expanded the type and scope of housing improvements and construction. By 1989, the CDC had a $4.5 million budget. In 1988 alone, the CDC completed a 114-unit apartment and completed plans for the rehabilitation of another 250 housing units.
A major problem that the CDC corrected for its West Chicago residents was the practice of red lining of the community by banks which prevented the community from obtaining bank loans. The CDC formed a powerful coalition that forced the banks to abide by the Federal Community Reinvestment Act, a law that requires banks to reinvest in the areas they serve. As a consequence of this, the CDC was able to secure a pledge of $183 million for community reinvestment from the banks.
In a recent study, conducted in East Palo Alto, researcher Amy Huyck says that there are other programs that show similar success when the community is directly involved. Much criticism has been leveled at current community redevelopment programs that have been carried out under Community Redevelopment Law. Critics charge that Redevelopment has displaced and made homeless, many low income people. In fact, some people contend that Redevelopment activities (at least prior to the recession) have been the cause of most of the homelessness in the country’s major cities.
The City of New York recently announced that renters would be able to purchase new public housing by applying some of their rent towards the purchase of their apartments.
According to New York Times reporter James McKinley, the Bush administration “strongly favor programs that would turn over public housing to tenants. New York has had years of difficulty in providing decent housing for its low income community.
In New York, the older publicly subsidized housing complexes will not be sold to tenants. The New York City Government promises that in order to maintain housing for the very poor, any housing to be sold to tenants will have to be replaced by the Federal Government. The new public housing will be available to families earning as much as $40,000 per year. The maximum allowed income had previously been $29,500. As in San Jose, families whose total income is $40,000 do not usually have enough money to buy a home.
Housing for the moderate, low and very low income persons and families remains a serious problem, not only here but across the nation.
Adding to the problem are the often-overlooked practices of lending institutions. Recently, it was reported that minority/poor communities, particularly Hispanic and African Americans, were more likely than others to be refused a bank loan. Another problem is the high interest rate paid by those who do get loans.
Until a better method is found to provide housing for low and very low income families who work in Santa Clara County, the economic and spiritual health of the City will suffer irreparable harm. The less fortunate should not be expected to work hard and still not be able to provide decent housing for themselves and their families. Our City will not prosper if every penny earned by these families is used just to provide a family housing – how will parents educate their children and have money to protect their family’s health.
For more information on the National Farm Workers Service Center described by Cesar Chavez call (408) 241-3903. For more information on the Bethel New Life Inc. write to Life Incorporated, 367 Karlov, Chicago, Ill., 60624 or call (312) 826-5540.