How California’s Coachella Valley Housing helped improve the lives of one rural farmworker family Coachella Valley Housing has been a positive factor in my family’s life… from providing us the opportunity to own our own home to helping me earn my degree at Berkeley


Rural Voices

Then, a few years later, Juan’s parents applied to CV Housing’s Mutual Self Help program, where they gained one-on-one credit and housing counseling, and began the process to becoming home owners. In 2002, Juan Antonio and Elizabeth Rodriguez joined forces with seven other hard-working families to build their home and that of their neighbors in the Mexicas Self Help subdivision in Mecca. There were months when the parents were away from

home long hours. After working all day, they spent evenings and weekends building their dream home and dream community, with their future neighbors and under the direction of CV Housing staff. The programs is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Mutual Self Help program. The Rodriguez family joined a group of 67 families in the Mexicas subdivision, more than 380 families in the community of Mecca, more than 1,500 families in Riverside

and Imperial counties, and a group of more than 46,000 families across the country who have built their own homes in partnership with their neighbors since the Mutual Self Help program began in the late 1960s. But for Juan and his three siblings, the newly built four bedroom house meant a place for their parents, and each of them to have their own room and their own space. Juan was 12, his brother Francisco, 11, and sisters Erendira, 9, and Wendy,

4, when the family moved into their own home. Juan’s parents wanted their children to aspire to a better life than farm work, and having a stable home of their own was the first step toward that end. They were strict about what their children did in their spare time and constantly encouraged them to do well in school. But it was the way the

family spent their summers picking grapes that drove the message home. “Working in the fields from 6 a.m. to late in

the afternoon was the greatest motivator to study and never have to do such backbreaking work again,” Juan explains. In spite of never leaving the Valley except to follow the harvests, Juan began realizing the varied world he lived in while attending Desert Mirage High School in Thermal, CA. A good student, he began tutoring students in math and he even came to the aid of the faculty. “Ninety percent of the parents couldn’t speak English and many of the students only spoke Spanish,” recalls the bi-lingual collegiate. “I volunteered to serve as a translator.”Juan realized his potential and pushed himself to new heights. As a senior he committed himself to applying to only

the best schools in California. He was happily accepted to UC Berkeley. CV Housing stepped in again, providing Juan (and his brother Francisco when he graduated high school) with an annual $1,000 JFM Scholarship

to assist with books, and room and board. Once there, Juan used his experience of seeing firsthand how affordable

housing, or the lack of it, affects family stability, safety and aspiration, to choose his major in urban planning and architecture. In 2010 and again in 2013, Juan served as an intern with CV Housing and loved working with community members impacted by the nonprofit. He worked in CV Housing’s Community Services department, assisting in the implementation of many community programs, including a STEM-infused (Science, Technology, Math & Engineering) Robotics program, an Art Appreciation program and CV Housing’s annual Summer Youth Tennis

Camp. During his second internship he worked primarily in the Multi-Family Development department, assisting in

the development of successful Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Federal Home Loan Bank, and Department of Housing and Community Development funding applications, as well as assisting in the entitlement, plan review and accounting of multi-family apartment projects. “My goal has always been to go back and help the community by working for an organization like CV Housing that plans and builds quality housing for low-paid field and service

workers,” Juan says. The Rodriguez family’s first home in Eastern Riverside County, California’s Coachella

Valley, known as “Campo” by the locals, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first farm labor camp in Southern California. Its full name is Fred Young Farm Labor Center, and it was built starting in the early 1950s for migrant farm workers. By the 1990s, Campo had 253 units and housed an esti-  The original Fred Young labor camp in 2010


My goal has always been to go back and help the community by working for an organization like CV Housing that plans and builds quality housing

for low-paid field and service workers


March 2014

mated 1,520 residents. Extremely modest housing, “Campo” was designed with only bare necessities in mind, featuring cinder block uninsulated walls and no central air that left families enduring extreme summer temperatures that regularly average over 105 degrees Fahrenheit and drop to below freezing on long winter nights. Long after Juan and his family moved out of his great-grandparents’ apartment in Campo, CV Housing acquired the farm worker development in 2007 with the intent to build new and much improved housing for the 200 plus families still living on the site. Today that intent is reality with 85 replacement units newly built, demolition planned for the first 85 vacated units and a second phase of new construction in predevelopment. In addition, CV Housing ensured that Campo’s existing residents had at least functioning air conditioning and heating in their old units, and roofs that did not leak on rainy days. CV Housing also kicked into gear its many community services programs on site at Campo, as it does for all of its family housing developments. Specifically, Campo features an on-site, free-of-charge afterschool program, a California Department of Education-funded preschool program, and a number of on-going enrichment programs

such as nutrition and health classes; an English as a Second Language program; and summer youth and adult fitness programs. These programs and more will continue at the new development to be now known as Villa Hermosa Apartments. With the help of these programs, CV Housing plans to see many more youth like Juan emerge from these developments.


by Nadia Villagrán

Juan Rodriguez at a Coachella Valley Housing

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