In the early 1990s, the town of Milbridge, Maine, became home to a large number of farm workers who decided to leave the “migrant stream.” Since then, an estimated 400 Latino residents have settled in Washington County, one of Maine’s poorest regions and producer of 85 percent of the world’s wild blueberries. Finding affordable year-round housing poses a considerable challenge, especially for low-income families dependent on seasonal seafood and farm work. When Mano en Mano, a nonprofit organization offering education and advocacy for agriculture and aquaculture workers, requested help in building Maine’s first off-farm workforce housing, CEI and CEI Investment Notes, Inc. stepped in with a $220,000 loan, technical assistance and construction oversight.
“Tenants at Hand in Hand Apartments are now focused on education, furthering careers, and raising families instead of simply struggling to live in the community where they work. The impact of this project on the community is significant, especially for families that had never had their own place to call home.”
– Ian Yaffe, Executive Director, MANO EN MANO
Hand in Hand Apartments houses six families, half of whom are Latino. Most of the families have young children, and almost all are seafood workers (sternmen and processing) with one family that rakes blueberries. Mano en Mano has added a playground, garden plots, and has also piloted a new program, “Kids Can Grow!,” in partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, providing gardening education to children living in and nearby the apartments.
“As first-time developers, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the construction of Hand in Hand Apartments on-time and under budget without CEI’s expert assistance and flexible approach to lending,” said Yaffe.
Major funding for the project was provided through a USDA Rural Development Farm Labor Housing Grant and Loan package. Additional key partners included MaineHousing, Edmond J. Bearor of Rudman & Winchell, HUD’s Community Development Block Grants, the Maine Community Foundation, and community donors.