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Addressing Farmworker Housing

New Partnerships, Funding Move Projects Forward

Since 2016 Monterey Bay Economic Partnership has made housing one of its key initiatives, and the efforts of MBEP’s housing team are showing results in increasing the supply of affordable housing solutions for the region’s farmworkers. MBEP’s advocacy has helped pave the way for numerous projects that have opened in the past few years and for others that are in various stages of development.

When a new farmworker housing project under construction in Greenfield is fully completed, it will provide safe, dorm-style apartments for as many as 800 seasonal agricultural workers. The first two buildings could be done by March 2021 and will be leased by the developer, Avila Construction Co., to Duda Fresh Foods to house seasonal workers.

On June 24, Avila Construction was also granted unanimous approval by the Monterey County Planning Commission for Harvest Moon, a farmworker housing project off North Davis Road in unincorporated land just outside of Salinas that could house up to 1,200 workers.

A string of other farmworker housing projects are under construction or on the drawing board for Monterey County: CHISPA has a number of prospective farmworker housing projects totaling more than 300 units in various stages of predevelopment in Gonzales, Castroville and the East Garrison of Fort Ord. Nonprofit housing developer EAH Housing recently acquired 11 acres in Greenfield, where it aims to build 222 units of permanently affordable, year-round housing for families tied to the local agriculture industry.

According to the Farmworker Housing Study and Action Plan for Salinas Valley and Pajaro Valley, the region’s agricultural workers face “consistently stunning high rates” of overcrowding, and an additional 33,159 additional units of farmworker housing are needed just to alleviate critical overcrowding in farmworker households in the region. And as we now know, this overcrowding has contributed to the spread of COVID-19 among our farmworker population.

MBEP’s Housing Associate, Rafael Hernandez, who facilitates the study’s Oversight Committee, says the solutions don’t come quickly, but the mostly behind-the-scenes work — of housing advocacy meetings and public policy discussions, data tracking, consensus-building and funding solutions — are showing results.

Those projects are the public realization of years of efforts of local housing advocates, elected officials, Ag leaders and others coordinated by MBEP as part of implementing the Farmworker Housing Study Action Plan, which has the goal of producing 5,300 permanent, affordable farmworker housing units over the next five years.

The group has also made progress toward leveraging existing funds and creating new local funding sources to increase the inventory of farmworker housing, the Action Plan’s second objective.

“We have identified more land or development opportunities. We’re going to need subsidies to develop those sites for farmworker families,” said Hernandez, “and we’re starting to see that happen through our local government and nonprofit partners.”

Many of the funds now finding their way into our region were made possible by voters in 2018 with Proposition 1: The Affordable and Veterans Housing Bond ($4 billion) and Proposition 2: The Building Homes and Jobs Act. With MBEP’s support, the County of Monterey is leading the creation of a new Regional Housing Trust Fund and is expected to apply for up to $5 million in state matching funds in August. Several cities have joined the County’s application including MBEP members, City of Salinas, City of Gonzales, and City of Pacific Grove.

Proposition 2 created a permanent, ongoing source of funding for affordable housing development of all types, including farmworker housing. MBEP is actively coordinating with local governments to ensure the nine policy recommendations in its Housing Policy Change White Paper are being integrated into housing policy updates which are designed to increase the supply of affordable housing.