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Fund for farm worker housing grows

Fund for farm worker housing grows

The state has increased funding for a program that gives low-cost loans to farmers to buy, build or

The state has increased funding for a program that gives low-cost loans to farmers to buy, build or rehabilitate housing for their workers.

An additional $2 million has been added to the Farmworker Housing Program revolving loan fund, the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal and the Department of Agriculture and Markets announced.

The program, administered by the housing agency, provides no-interest loans of up to $100,000 to farmers who can demonstrate a need to buy, improve or construct farmworker housing.

The new funding brings the total authorization for the fund to $9 million, with the money in a revolving fund and the money loaned out again as old loans are paid off.

The program was created in 1995 as a way to finance housing for seasonal agricultural workers, and in 2004 was expanded to include dairy farms with year-round farm workers.

“The Farmworker Housing Program has been extremely effective and has helped more than 200 farmers in New York provide safe housing for their workers,” said state housing Commissioner Deborah VanAmerogen.

“Farmers throughout the state have used it, and numerous farmers in the Capital Region have used it,” said Jessica Chittenden, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

She said farmers will sometimes offer free housing as a benefit of employment, as they seek to recruit and retain quality farm workers.

“No other employer depends on their work force quite as much as farmers,” Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said in a statement. “Farm workers are the vital lifeblood of every farm operation.”

The state works with two local loan administrators who originate and service Farmworker Housing loans. First Pioneer Farm Credit, based in Potsdam, serves eastern and northern New York, including the Capital Region. It has local offices in Cobleskill and Greenwich.

A First Pioneer official said the additional funding is needed because the loan fund is currently low.

“I believe there is an unmet need,” said Michael Haycook, vice president and branch manager for First Pioneer in Potsdam. “We requested the state of New York to increase the funding because of the strong demand … The hiring of good quality people is very competitive.”

The loan administrators require a one-time origination and servicing fee of five percent of the loan amount, officials said. There are no other interest or inspection fees charged, and the fee is amortized over the 10-year loan repayment period.

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