MILBRIDGE, Maine — After years of delays, land was cleared this week and construction now will begin on a $1.4 million six-unit residence that will serve local agriculture and aquaculture workers.
Mano en Mano, a nonprofit agency serving area Latino residents, is constructing the facility and director Ian Yaffe said everyone at the agency is excited to be moving forward.
The project is the only one of its kind, Yaffe said, the first-ever, off-farm, farmworker housing in the state.
“Even though Maine has a tremendous connection with the land and the sea, never before has there been a push to create housing for those workers,” Yaffe said Friday. “When you think of Maine, you think of those very industries.”
“We are heartened by the incredible work that Mano en Mano has done to provide stable housing for farmworkers in Washington County,” Ron Phillips, president of Coastal Enterprises Inc., which financed a portion of the housing loan, said in a statement. “It’s a nice fit for CEI, as the project supports access to local food for area residents and to good-quality housing for farmworkers, key participants in the local economy.”
The project also will create or maintain numerous jobs in Maine, from the construction workers to the lending institutions involved, Yaffe said.
When completed, Hand in Hand Apartments will house six farmworker families in three three-bedroom and three two-bedroom apartments.
In 2008, Mano en Mano was awarded a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. But the project was tied up for more than two years because of some Milbridge residents’ concerns that the project would increase crime and the demand for services. They also expressed concern over a loss of property tax revenue be-cause Mano en Mano is a not-for-profit organization. Town officials pushed for a moratorium to give the Milbridge planning board time to draft local building standards.
Earlier this year, the project finally was cleared to proceed.
“We finished clearing the land this week,” Yaffe said, “and next week we’ll put in the driveway and start the foundation.”
Yaffe said the project should be completed by May 31, 2011.
“It really feels good to be on our way,” he said.
Fifteen years ago, Milbridge experienced an influx of Latino immigrant workers who decided to settle in the area.
Mano en Mano, Yaffe explained, was formed to meet the needs of those people and build a bridge with the town of Milbridge and surrounding area.
Maine’s Latino population grew by 67 percent between 2000 and 2007, Yaffe said, compared to the state’s average population growth of 3 percent.
“We serve an estimated 600 Latinos that live here,” he said, adding that the Milbridge area “has one of the most diverse populations in the state.”
Hand in Hand Apartments will be open to permanent residents or U.S. citizens who earn a substantial portion of their annual income from agriculture or aquaculture work. Detailed qualifications will be released in the coming months along with the application process for living in this building.
In addition, Yaffe said construction updates and a time-lapse slide show of the construction will be posted on the agency’s website: www.manomaine.org.
Yaffe said the key partners in the construction are E.W. Littlefield Inc. of Hartland as the general contractor, and WBRC Architects/Engineers of Bangor.
Major funding is through a $1,005,722 USDA Rural Development Farm Labor Housing Grant and $176,778 Farm Labor Housing Loan, as well as a $220,000 loan from CEI of Wiscasset.
Additional support and technical assistance for this project include: a Pre-Development Loan of $60,000 from MaineHousing, HUD’s Community Development Block Grants, a component fund of the Maine Community Foundation, Edmond Bearor, Rudman & Winchell Attorneys, Pathstone, Housing Assistance Council, and generous community donors.