By: Vashti Kelly, Program Manager
Recently there was a story in the news talking about a newly built affordable housing complex, Naciente, for agricultural workers. This is great news for those working and living in Fort Morgan on the Eastern Plains of Colorado, but what about agricultural workers across the rest of this nation? If you know anything about farmworker housing the words alone usually evoke cringe-worthy mental images of dilapidated structures that have been converted from animal quarters to tightly packed living quarters for workers; overcrowded; unsanitary conditions in the worst cases. Now, in all fairness there are different types of farmworker housing available. More recently, there is well managed, clean housing that anyone would be proud to call home have been erected in small towns with large agricultural populations. Despite this variation in housing they all present their own challenges.
- To understand the minimum requirements of housing by law, please read below:Grower-owned/provided housing: This is housing that by law growers must provide to documented seasonal farmworkers as well as H-2A temporary agricultural workers.
- Government subsidized housing: Farmworkers must meet qualification guidelines, such as income guidelines or be documented, in order to live in these dwellings.
- Privately owned housing: Farmworkers pay a private owner rent to live in traditional housing.
Nevertheless, there are other types of housing that do not fit into the aforementioned categories because they are makeshift at best. These range from unregulated labor camps, overcrowded mobile homes, tents and tarps in the fields. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that dictate where and what a farmworker can call home; immigration status is one, government and grower-owned housing require that you be documented in order to qualify. Another determinant for housing is income; many times farmworkers do not make enough money to meet their basic needs. So, when there is a housing monopoly it creates a predatory situation. OR in the situation of grower-provided housing the cost of housing may be deducted from their earnings. Similarly, family can also dictate housing choices, some labor camps are single male only abodes automatically excluding couples and families with children. And, because most agricultural housing is in remote rural areas oversight is difficult and minimal.
It is important to note that farmworker housing is a contributing contributes to making this population more vulnerabile. For most of us the word home evokes some kind of emotional response but it also represents a place of refuge, comfort, and self. Yet, if like many farmworkers you are forced, by circumstance, to live in squalor; without basic utilities; or poor standards, this might take a toll on one’s physical and mental health.
Agriculture is a multi-billion-dollar industry, where farmworkers receive minimal compensation for their arduous labor. Yet they have little to no control over the quality and safety of their housing. There are strives being made to address the lack of suitable and safe housing for farmworkers on a state level as seen in places like Washington. However, until there is a cultural shift among Americans about food and a change in our broken food system there will be little in the way of comprehensive change for agricultural housing.