By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

The biggest need facing Del Norte County's Hispanic population remains a lack of affordable housing, community leaders agree.

Many of the immigrants who arrive to work on area farms and ranches live under leaky roofs in scattered trailer parks, without heat or electricity. Others crowd into sagging trailers along a pot-hole lined dirt stretch of Sarina Road in Smith River.

Hilda Yepes-Contreras, who teaches English to Hispanic immigrants in Smith River, wants to see construction of a housing project that has been in the making for a decade.

The $8 million plan comes from the Del Norte Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit that formed in 1995 to build affordable homes for low-income farm workers.

The effort included plans for an apartment complex, funded by $3 million from the private Joe Serna Farmworkers Housing Program, $3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $1.5 million loan from Rural Community Assistance Corp.

The proposal calls for 26 apartments on more than 10 acres at the northwest corner of Ocean View Drive and U.S. Hwy. 101 in Smith River. The site would also host a community center, kitchen and meeting room.

It still requires a county approved permit.

Project developers still must submit an environmental impact review because of environmental concerns, county planner Ernie Perry said. Those include possible effects from a proposed sewage holding tank for a septic system, along with possible environmental effects.

andquot;The biggest problem is, they need to decide what their project is,andquot; Perry said, noting changes to the proposal over time.

A plan could be determined by month's end, said Rural Human Services Executive Director Larry Lakes. The Crescent City nonprofit has worked with the housing corporation on the project.

Lakes said that he did not yet know if the plans or the location for the project would change.

andquot;We're evaluating options,andquot; Lakes said.

Reach Hilary Corrigan at