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Affordable housing complex in Hatch gives farm workers stability

LAS CRUCES – The town of Hatch is home to a thriving agriculture industry, but until recently it didn’t offer much affordable housing to farm laborers and their families.

That changed recently with the opening of El Camino Real Apartments, a $9.6 million complex that offers affordable housing to farm workers. It was completed last year after a 24-month development and construction period, and celebrated its official grand opening on April 12.

Las Cruces Bishop Oscar Cantú and Bishop Emeritus Ricardo Ramirez were among the dignitaries who joined the celebration, blessing the apartments and their occupants, which includes as many as 50 children.

“The logic of this housing project is to stabilize the farming workforce,” said Rose Garcia, the executive director of Tierra Del Sol Housing Corporation, which is a stakeholder in the project.

“Farm workers work so hard, but they don’t earn a whole lot,” she added. “But the good thing is if they have a home here, an apartment with reasonable rent, then they’re stable — they don’t have to worry about their kids who can stay in school.”

The nonprofit organization Housing and Economic Rural Opportunity, Inc., or HERO, is the sponsor in the housing complex as well as its general partner. HERO and Thomas Development Group, LLC, serve as co-developers in the project, and the Las Cruces-based Crestline Building Corporation was picked to be the general contractor.

Garcia said a market analysis of housing needs in Hatch — home to chile fields, dairies and other farming operations — was conducted before the project got underway and showed that most farm workers were seeking affordable rental properties because they could not afford to buy homes.

“That’s why we chose to pursue the apartments for rentals,” she said, adding that rent is based on income but averages $500 to $800 per month during peak work seasons. During off seasons, rent is reduced, in some cases as low as $150 per month, she said.

The housing complex was built on property less than a mile from downtown Hatch. The multi-building complex features two-, three- and four-bedroom units that were designed for families. There are a total of 40 units. A new road — Chile Capital Road — also was constructed as part of the project.

On-site amenities include a community common building, laundry facilities, a computer lab, community garden and orchard, and two age-appropriate playgrounds

Development and construction of the housing complex took about two years to complete, according to Thomas Andrews, CEO of Thomas Development Group, LLC, who spoke to the Sun-News on Friday.

Andrews said families started moving into completed apartment units last summer before construction on the entire complex was finished in September. By the October, the complex had reached its occupancy capacity, he said.

Garcia said there is now a waiting list to rent units in the complex.

Andrews said the project was financed through USDA Rural Development and utilizes federal low-income housing tax credits.

According to Andrews, the complex has a high level of energy efficiency and received a platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council LEED. The units exceed the requirements to be certified as an Energy Star home under EPA guidelines, he said. The complex’s overall energy efficiency is projected to be 70 percent better than typical construction standards, he said.

In order to qualify for housing at the complex, at least 51 percent of a renter’s annual income must come from the agriculture industry, Garcia said.

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Carlos Andres López can be reached 575-541-5453, or @carlopez_los on Twitter.


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