National Center for Farmworker Health
Call for Health
info@ncfh.org
1770 FM 967 • Buda, TX 78610
(512) 312-2700
(800) 531-5120
fax (512) 312-2600
September 2014
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About America’s Farmworkers

Farmworker Housing

Farmworkers need decent, affordable housing in order to make the journey to perform the seasonal work needed. Without their labor, growers cannot maintain current production levels, thus creating food shortages that ultimately affect consumers in the form of higher prices. The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) conducted a survey of farmworker housing throughout the country and reported that "farmworkers are among the worst-housed groups in the United States". Excluding dormitories and barracks, which were built for high occupancy, almost 85% of all units were crowded. Of farmworkers living in the crowded units, more than 50% were raising children.

Traditionally, growers have met the farmworker population's housing needs through the establishment of labor camps. Not all areas have adequate camps for all the farmworkers in one area, and many camps have been neglected and are in disrepair. When labor camps are unavailable, farmworkers must consider either private housing that can be rented or housing supplied by the agricultural employer. Each has its challenges.

Hired farmworkers, particularly migrants, face barriers to obtaining housing in the local private housing markets. Small rural communities may not have enough rental units available, or they may be unavailable to migrant farmworkers because they cannot provide deposits, qualify for credit checks, or make long-term rental commitments. Approximately 50% of farmworkers live in housing that they rent from someone other than their employer. Private housing is not subject to federal regulation. The private housing designated for migrants tends to be substandard and many times expensive.

On the other hand, housing provided by agricultural employers is reasonably priced or free, but in general, is in short supply. Although agricultural employers recognize that the lack of housing is a serious problem, they face several disincentives to providing housing for migrant farmworkers. A major barrier is that the expense and construction of housing that will only be occupied on a short-term basis does not support this effort in a cost benefit analysis. Some employer-provided housing does exist, but ironically, attempts to enforce housing standards have created a trend toward agricultural employers' discontinuing the provision of housing. As a result, workers may share a small, grower-provided room with several other people. In the absence of housing, farmworkers may be forced to sleep in tents, cars, ditches, or open fields, where they often lack safe drinking water, bathing or laundry facilities, and adequate sanitation.

The migrant labor force is important to the agricultural sector, which in turn is an important part of the overall local economy. It is clear that steps should be taken to help migrant farmworkers find solutions to their housing needs. There has been some progress with regard to farmworker housing.

For instance, the state of Florida is among the more active states in providing assistance for the development of farmworker housing. Among its programs is the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program, which provides mortgages for the construction or substantial rehabilitation of rental housing that is affordable to low-income tenants.

The state of California operates state housing centers for migrant farmworkers and their families, and the state provides effective model programs for farmworker housing enforcement and development.

Finally, in Texas, Proyecto Azteca is a non-profit organization affiliated with United Farm Workers. The project has a program to improve farmworkers' living conditions in the unincorporated villages, or colonias in the Rio Grande Valley.