Problems over the years led to changes at Farm Labor Homes

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The physical state of Farm Labor Homes, as outlined in last month’s report from Walla Walla Housing Authority, is part of what led the newest board members of the County Housing Authority to seek solutions for the labor camp, noted President Kate Bobrow-Strain.

Decades of neglect and mismanagement could not be reversed with only rental income to pay for it, generated from “way below-market rate rents,” she said. And board members are volunteers, “almost all of whom have full time jobs and other volunteer commitments.”

When she took the lead board position in 2010, the number of changes needed to move forward was overwhelming, Bobrow-Strain said.

“There had been problems at Farm Labor Homes for many, many many years,” she said. “I don’t know what factors came together to create a culture that existed and a lack of accountability. Fundamentally, we are talking about a lack of accountability. No one was paying enough attention. Or if they were, they weren’t doing enough about it.

“That would be reflected in everything, from the physical condition of the units to the professional expertise of staff to the way the board was run to the accounting system.”

After exploring some management options, the board was able to get a strategic plan in place. Eventually, however, members saw they had started too far behind with too few resources to obtain their goals, Bobrow-Strain said.

“It took awhile for our whole board to reach that conclusion, but we did begin talks with Walla Walla Housing Authority summer of 2011,” she said.

Those sessions culminated this spring in the transfer of Farm Labor Home to the city, allowing Walla Walla Housing Authority to obtain funding for 68 new units to replace the remaining old units, she wrote in an email.

“I am confident that (it) will be able to make what was Farm Labor Homes into a model for rural, low-income housing in the Northwest. I feel proud of the work done by the (Walla Walla County Housing Authority) board in getting to a place where attaining that goal is possible.”

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