At a recent meeting of the plan commission of the city of Darlington, held on Tuesday, May 5, Walter Orzechowski, of the SW Community Action Program (SWCAP) made a presentation regarding a proposal for an affordable housing construction project for farm industry workers.
Late last year, Orzechowski said SWCAP was approached by United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS), an organization that provides programs and services to improve employment, educational, health and housing opportunities of under-served populations, about developing an affordable housing project for farm industry workers.
At this point the project is still in the very early conceptual stages, but a study has been conducted that looked at Darlington as a potential site of the project, that came back with positive results.
Orzechowski wanted to meet with the city of Darlington plan commission in order to answer questions and get a feel for how the city was receiving the project concept.
“We’re not your typical developer who is going to come in and just buy up land,” said Orzechowski. “We want to develop affordable housing that meets the needs of the community, and if the community doesn’t want it, we can go somewhere else. We’re not locked into Darlington, but so far everybody seems interested and positive at this point.”
Orzechowski has been in contact for several weeks with Luis Lopez from the Lafayette Development Corporation, Tony Ruesga of the Darlington Police Department, Dave Breunig—Darlington mayor and Bev Anderson, former city council member.
At this point, SWCAP is preparing a pre-application for the project that will be submitted to USDA Rural Development, an organization that provides grant funding and low cost financing to eligible projects. If the pre-application is approved, a formal application will be submitted.
Overall, if everything in the process goes smoothly and all applications are accepted, Orzechowski said that a roughly estimated timeline would have the project starting later this year and finishing sometime next year.
“But that’s really just my best guess,” he said. “At this point we’re really not sure about much.”
Orzechowski said they have been looking at potential sites in the Darlington area where the housing could go, but don’t have anything chosen at this point.
“We’re thinking of a housing structure with two or three bedroom units with around 24 total units at this point,” said Orezchowski.
If the structure is built, there would be a set of conditions that potential residents would need to meet and prove, such as being of low-income status, that 40 percent of their income is from farm labor and that they are legal residents.
“We would probably hire a professional building management company and have an onsite manager for the property,” said Orzechowski. “We’re also exploring the possibility of putting an Early Head Start site either in or near the building and having a community room for classes or clinics. But we’re still at the very early stages yet.”