Agriculture

Farmworker housing bill not enticing local growers

With concerns over liability and deed restriction, farmers appear unlikely to use new law AB 1783 intended to stimulate construction of farmworker housing.

With California getting ready to implement a streamlined process to approve farmworker housing through Assembly Bill 1783, local farmers are skeptical about the new law. 

Grower-Shipper Association of Central California President Christopher Valadez said farmers are concerned about their liability even though a third party is required to manage the housing. He said they’re also concerned about having a 35-year deed restriction that would not allow farmers the flexibility to adapt to future needs.

The bill, which also offers applicants funds for up to 36 units, requires land owners and housing organizations to maintain affordability of the proposed housing for a minimum of 35 years. The landowners are subject to penalties if they do not work with a certified housing agency.

Though he believes the law is intended to offer tools to address California’s farmworker housing shortage, Valadez said farmers don’t feel the restrictions are worth the funds.

“To have a process available to them through this streamlined permitting and then be required to turn it over completely and still retain liability on those issues, they saw that as problematic,” he said.

Tony Alameda with Topflavor Farms said he won’t be taking advantage of AB 1783. He said he has about 10 houses for his employees and their families, and a unit for H-2A workers—temporary agricultural workers contracted from out of the country.

“I will continue to use private money to deal with our housing crisis,” Alameda said, adding that the bill’s author, State Assemblyman Robert Rivas, did not do farmers any favors with the legislation.

“He made it very challenging. I won’t touch it and I don’t see why others would.”

In response to growers’ concerns, Rivas said the key component was separating dual roles between landlord and employer. He also said the bill was far from a complete answer to the housing shortage, but one of the tools that could be used to address it.

“Having this concept in the bill was fundamental and a core foundation of this legislation, ensuring that no person that lives in such housing is going to live in fear of losing their housing because of employment standards,” Rivas said.

Because AB 1783 requires farmers to contract with an approved third party, like a nonprofit, to manage the housing, Rivas said it was up to farmers and housing operators to negotiate liability issues.

“If you’re utilizing this tool, if you’re a grower, you’re not going to negotiate unfair terms for yourself,” he said. “Why would you do that? That’s why it’s an opt-in bill.”

Rivas added that the California Department of Housing and Community Development is creating a list of qualified nonprofit organizations that could act as housing managers.

Valadez said over time, legislators will need to evaluate AB 1783’s success and usage rate.

“If we’re going to create a tool that helps alleviate the housing insufficiency in the region, then we can also begin to look at elements of that tool, or changes to make to incentivise or encourage employers to actually use it,” Valadez said.

Based on his conversations with several farmers, Valadez doesn’t expect AB 1783 to have a significant effect on farmworker housing, which he considers to be in a crisis.

Despite the lack of initial interest, both Valadez and Rivas said more tools are needed to meet the goal of 33,000 affordable units suggested in the Farmworker Housing Study Action Plan for the Pajaro and Salinas valleys released in April 2018.

“Our bill will not get there, but this is a tool,” Rivas said. “This is a step in the right direction because agriculture housing is going to require a whole bunch of different tools.”

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.