Housing authorities eye Farm Labor Homes shift

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WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla County Housing Authority board members are hoping to put themselves out of a job.

In a dance with Walla Walla County Commissioners and the Walla Walla Housing Authority that began last summer, the governing board of Farm Labor Homes is moving toward handing over the assets and liabilities of the 46 acres between old and new highways headed into Oregon and known locally as “the labor camp” to city housing officials.

The camp was established during World War II as military housing and became a peace-time facility for farm workers in 1948.

The homes are not governed by the county, but county commissioners do appoint all volunteer board members.

The farm homes have suffered poor management in the past, according to official reports. In 2010, fresh board members invited the city’s housing authority to partner with it in bringing changes to the development.

That resulted in construction of 60 new housing units to replace half of the labor camp’s aging homes. Occupancy of the new apartments began in late 2011.

Walla Walla Housing Authority is better equipped to provide “more robust” services for low-income families, noted Kate Bobrow-Strain, board chairwoman of the county authority. She and her board members have been taking steps since September to answer county commission’s request for more information about handing off the Farm Labor Homes.

Funding for more new construction at the site was recently sought from federal and state agencies and is close to approval, said Renee Rooker, executive director of the city authority.

Rooker and Bobrow-Strain, along with Walla Walla Housing Authority board President Elizabeth Humphrey, met with county commissioners Monday to seek a nod of affirmation for the transfer, although it is not required by law. The dissolution of the county housing authority does need commissioners’ approval, however, Bobrow-Strain noted. Commissioners also must give the Walla Walla agency the power to operate throughout the county.

The Farm Labor Homes are the sole property under the county authority’s umbrella.

The three housing officials also asked the commissioners to set a date for adoption of the plan.

Commissioners Jim Johnson, Perry Dozier and Greg Tompkins requested a list of the Walla Walla Housing Authority’s liabilities and assets and said they would revisit the proposal in April.

“I want to make sure we are moving forward,” Johnson said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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