Monterey County's multi-billion dollar farming industry depends on thousands of farmworkers. But a new study finds there’s a tremendous lack of housing for them.
Roberto Mora saw first-hand the kinds of conditions some local farmworkers are living in. While working as a surveyor for the California Institute for Rural Studies, he spent last summer knocking on doors in the Salinas and Pajaro Valleys. Mora says often, seven people are living in one-bedroom apartments.
“But there were some other cases, like at least 20, 30 people were living in the house. One family per room,” says Mora.
The data he helped collect is part of a new farmworker housing study. Surveyors, analysts, housing experts and ag company leaders presented and discussed the study during a forum at CSUMB's Salinas City Center on April 19. The last study of this kind was done back in 2001, and a lot has changed since then. Most notably, farm production has increased over the last decade.
The 2018 farmworker housing study found that roughly 90,000 people work in agriculture in the region. The study also found they’re squeezed into 20,000 to 30,000 homes. The analysis concludes there’s a need for over 45,000 new and affordable farmworker housing units.
Megan Hunter is the Director of Community Development for the City of Salinas. She says the first step in addressing this problem is to create 5,300 units over the next five years.
“Sure the need is larger, but for those farmworkers that are experiencing severe overcrowding, may not have housing, may be homeless in a way and moving from room to room, that is a huge impact and it will definitely go a long way in helping stabilize the workforce,” says Hunter.
She also says more farmworker housing will benefit employers.
“We have heard from employers that because they don’t have the workforce, they’re not able to produce at the levels that they possibly can,” Hunter says.
Even with a workforce of 90,000 people, employers say there’s still a worker shortage, which is partly attributed to the current political climate around undocumented immigrants.
The Nunes Company in Salinas Valley, which farms about 22,000 acres in California, Arizona and Nevada, is about to open their own farmworker housing in Salinas. The company’s General Counsel is Brett Harrell. He says Nunes decided to build the housing to attract employees and ultimately stay in business.
“This is another way to say that we’re an employer of choice,” Harrell says.
But he says getting the building approved and built wasn’t easy. Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo says there needs to be land-use policy changes in order to achieve 5,300 units over the next five years.
“Well especially on the coastal counties, any type of housing is very difficult. You don’t only deal with NIMBYism, but also, there are a lot of regulations,” Alejo says.
This week, Alejo will call upon the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to create a committee tasked with reducing the extensive and costly regulations for ag companies to build housing. The family-owned produce company Tanimura & Antle was a pioneer in this. CEO Rick Antle, who recently passed away, was the backbone of their farmworker housing project. The housing in Spreckels is home to about 800 of Tanimura & Antle’s employees.