Affordable Housing Project
Norma J. Saiter, Governing Board Secretary, WSFRC
The Wenden-Salome Flood Recovery Commission, Inc.
(WSFRC), an Arizona nonprofit organization, was organized February 5,
2001 to care for victims of the October 2000 floods. In the course of
working toward their initial goals WSFRC discovered that far more than
originally imagined was needed to improve the plight of the communities
of Wenden and Salome, unincorporated communities that lie five miles
apart in the McMullen Valley of La
The entire county of La Paz has a population of fewer than 20,000 with
only 4.5% of the county property on the tax rolls. The remainder is privately
owned by the federal and state government, the city of Phoenix, and the
Colorado River Indian Tribe. Forty-eight percent of La Paz residents
live below the poverty level. The percentage is even higher in Wenden.
Approximately 640 residents live in 214 homes, over half of which are
manufactured or mobile units.
There are very few services in Wenden and Salome. Retail businesses
are limited to small auto parts stores, two small grocery stores, a feed
store and convenience shopping. The nearest banks are approximately 50
miles away in the towns of Wickenburg and Parker, Arizona. One grocery
store houses an ATM; both stores cash checks for farm workers.
Neither Wenden nor Salome has a wastewater
treatment facility or public sewer. Water is provided by a public water
system and private wells.
There is no pharmacy, but there is a staffed clinic in Salome associated
with La Paz Regional Hospital in Parker. Each town has an elementary
school and a post office. Bicentennial Union High School, with an average
enrollment of 150 students, serves both communities.
The McMullen Valley, which lies between two mountain ranges, is a fertile
valley noted for agriculture. The main crops of cantaloupe, honeydew,
and watermelon are all labor intensive; cotton, wheat, carrots, and onions
are also raised. The success of agriculture in the valley is dependent
on the availability of seasonal and full-time workers (see box
already existing severe housing shortage for these workers was worsened
in October 2000 when twin devastating floods struck.
In the middle of the night on October 21, 2000 relentless rainfall funneled
from surrounding mountains into Centennial Wash. This wall of water rushed
through the sleeping town of Wenden flooding half of the town and completely
destroying twenty homes. The water rushed on to attack residents along
Centennial Wash in outlying areas of neighboring Salome. Reports of as
many as eight people were carried away by the rushing water. Only one
body was found.
On the following Saturday there was a repeat performance when heavy
rain again caused more flooding along Centennial Wash. Residents were
evacuated, but this time some homes spared by the first flood were damaged
or destroyed. A bridge, a road and much repair work that had begun were
washed out. The toll on this already poverty stricken area was tremendous.
These floods led to the inception of Wenden-Salome
Flood Recovery Commission, Inc. when a group of local citizens banded
together for the purpose of
aiding victims whose needs remained unmet after the exit of Red Cross,
FEMA, SBA, and other agencies. WSFRC asked Dr. George Saiter – a
long time community member-- to direct its efforts.
The stated goal of WSFRC was to “promote the healthy recovery
and continued development of individuals, households, and community through
funding from gifts, donations, grants, loans and volunteers.” Based
on a survey of needs, WSFRC began its work by:
- providing advocacy for flood victims;
- providing information and assistance to understand and complete forms,
applications, and appeals;
- providing advice on repairs to homes and grounds;
- locating additional resources through grants and donations;
- facilitating the provision of relocation sites in or near Wenden;
- providing replacement homes in Wenden and Salome, and
- working to improve the welfare of the local citizens and seasonal
The area became a beehive of activity as volunteers from various national
church groups including the Christian Reformed Churches of America, Mennonites,
Church of the Brethren as well as local churches came to assist flood
victims. Singles, couples, and whole families from as far away as New
York and Canada donated their time and labor.
Over the next fourteen months WSFRC brought into the community a dollar
value of $430,161 in cash, volunteer labor, in-kind donations, loans
and grants. These donations and volunteers accomplished the following:
- razed two flood damaged homes;
- transported, renovated, and set up ten manufactured homes in Wenden;
- built one new two-bedroom home;
- renovated and weatherized one home;
- replaced clothing and/or appliances for 25 families;
- elevated one manufactured home above flood level;
- repaired 15 flood damaged homes, and
- opened a local food bank.
Once emergency work was complete, WSFRC realized
much remained to be done to improve the economy of Wenden-Salome. At
of the flood
numerous farm workers were sleeping under bridges and trees along the
wash. Many were crowded into trailers with inadequate plumbing, which
created sanitation problems. According to George Saiter, executive director
of WSFRC, the shortage of housing is evidenced by the amount of garbage
and human feces
each harvest season. Everything remotely resembling a dwelling is occupied
or overloaded, resulting in a slum housing environment, with unsanitary
living conditions and safety hazards. La Paz County is making an effort
through their code enforcement officers to control the
violations and overcrowding, but as of now there is no place for this
large number of workers to live.
Due to the severe shortage of housing and sub-standard
existing housing, WSFRC chose as its first goal short-stay rental units.
ten acres of land and obtained an option to purchase an additional 54
acres from the city of Phoenix for a subdivision development. Plans for
this subdivision, Amigos del Valle, (Friends of the Valley), include
self-help built homes, owner-occupied pre-built homes, rental homes,
and short-stay units for farm workers.
A safe and dependable source of drinking water is needed for Amigos
del Valle. WSFRC entered into an agreement with Wenden Domestic Water
Improvement District to seek sources of revenue needed to mitigate excessive
fluoride and arsenic content of the water. A $33,000 grant was obtained
to prepare a pre-engineering study that is now completed. Saiter is working
with USDA Rural Development to fund construction to complete the recommendations.
The vision for the next 10-15 years is to fully develop all 64 acres
with homes, apartments, and short-term rental units. The road has been
uphill for this low-income community and for WSFRC. The will is there
but the funds are not. Money is badly needed to move ahead with necessary
housing for these deserving workers that are vital to agriculture--the
mainstay of McMullen Valley. Funds are also need for staff to assist
Saiter in moving ahead with this project.
To learn more about the work of Wenden-Salome Flood Recovery Commission,
contact George Saiter, executive director, by phone at 928/859-3858 or
|Box 1: Farmworker Housing in Wenden-Salome
|Following is a summary of information collected by Jay Howe, La
Paz County Supervisor, which describes current housing conditions
of seasonal farm workers in the Wenden - Salome area of La Paz County,
Contract laborers work full time 40-49
hours per week for $6.00 to $8.25 per hour. Piece work wages
are estimated to be at the
higher end of the “wage scale.”
Intensity by Season
The need for farm labor is most intense during the harvest season
for all crops. In La Paz County the greatest demand each year
is from May 20 through July 20 and again from September 25 to
Number of Workers
There is no comprehensive source or database that can be used to
document the number of contracted migrant and seasonal workers
in La Paz County. Information comes from labor contractors. The
four major labor contractors providing service to the Wenden-Salome
area are California Packing Inc., Sierra Packaging, S & H
Farm Labor, and Ralph Collazo.
The following table lists the number
of workers supplied by each contractor to the area, the time
period they’re employed,
and the number who live in the area during the planting
and harvest seasons. The number of
workers living in the area is a
representation of the number of reported workers who need housing
for an average of 140 days per year. Saiter counted 1800 workers
in the fields, including truck drivers, on six different days in
||total # of workers (Spring)
|total # of workers
|S & H Farm Labor
|Collazo Farm Labor
The occupancy rate
of the area’s existing
migrant labor housing during harvests is 100 percent. There are
two US Department of Labor approved housing facilities in the area
that house fewer than 50. There are two small motels that house
between 100 and 130 workers during both seasons.
Survey of Housing (all are mobile homes most in poor repair)
||# of housing units
||Total # of bedrooms
||# of workers housed
||Weekly rental income
||54 plus 2 sheds
George Saiter has been CEO and the only employee of Wenden-Salome Flood
Recovery Commission, Inc. since its origin February 2001. He has worked
most of this time as a volunteer. He has been married to Norma for 28
years. They have three sons, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
He received a doctorate of psychology from the University of Northern
Colorado and spent his professional career in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
After retiring in 1991, he and Norma moved to Salome where he has been
very active in the community. George served four years on the Salome
High School governing board. He currently sits on the La Paz County Community
Advisory Board, and the Western Arizona Council of Government Community
Action Board. He serves as area director of the Salvation Army and director
of the Wenden-Salome Food Pantry.