In the municipality of Lares, Puerto Rico, lies Alturas de Castañer, a small, mountainous community that is home to 24 agricultores and their families. The agricultores - or farm workers - work hard year-round to produce coffee, bananas, root vegetables and citrus fruits that are then sold in local markets and to area restaurants.
Before coming to the community of Alturas de Castañer, many families lived in cramped conditions, sometimes with two or three other families. Conditions were unsanitary and children were constantly sick. Some homes did not even have roofs, and residents suffered dangerous exposure to the natural elements, including torrential rains during hurricane season.
Alturas de Castañer resident Maria Rodriguez and her husband recall renting a house that they could barely afford. The home was in disrepair, they had to use a ladder as a makeshift set of front steps to their home, and finding snakes and rats in their living space was commonplace.
With the help of USDA Rural Development's Farm Labor Housing Program, the Municipality of Lares was able to build an affordable 24-home rental community, Alturas de Castañer, dedicated solely to farm workers and their families.
After moving into this community, living conditions improved dramatically for many residents. Residents like Jomar, an agricultor who uses a wheelchair for mobility; the closets and kitchen in his Alturas de Castañer home were built for wheelchair accessibility.
The community is quiet and clean, the children of the farm workers have a safe place to play, and the homes are well maintained by an experienced management company. It's affordable, too; farm workers living in this community are only required to pay 30 percent of their income towards rent.
Built in 2008, Alturas de Castañer was a product of a partnership between USDA Rural Development, Rural Opportunities Puerto Rico, Inc. (ROPRI), an affiliate of PathStone, the Puerto Rico Department of Housing, and the Federal Home Loan Bank.
USDA and ROPRI have realized the success of the investment despite the significant challenges in planning and building a community in rural Puerto Rico. USDA and its partners are now looking forward to the development of self-sustaining community gardens which will also support a summer food program for children.
An investment like Alturas de Castañer, the only one of its kind in Puerto Rico, helps us realize that a better future is possible for rural Puerto Ricans. USDA Rural Development is working with community developers and affordable housing advocates to create more communities dedicated to the essential agricultores of Puerto Rico.
Write a Response
I live in Puerto Rico and I see a lot of land around that can be used for productive things like this. Not only housing initiatives but also, small businesses related to agriculture. The land in Puerto Rico is very fertile. We can create small cooperatives to produce excellent crops such as plantain, root vegetables, bananas, papayas and many others. They can easily be exported which can create employment for many people.