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Farmworkers' Families Struggle to Find Safe Housing

Farmworker Housing Development Corp. builds housing, such as the building above, for farmworkers and their families. (FHDC)
Farmworker Housing Development Corp. builds housing, such as the building above, for farmworkers and their families. (FHDC)
May 31, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – As fresh cherries go on display in Oregon's grocery stores, one organization is thinking about the workers who pick the fruit – and their need for safe living conditions.

The Farmworker Housing Development Corporation (FHDC) in Woodburn has been developing housing for farmworkers and their families since 1994.

Executive Director Roberto Jimenez says FHDC came up with the first alternative to labor camps on farms, which are sometimes in good condition.

"And there are some that are in deplorable condition – pretty inhumane conditions that we've seen far too often,” he states.

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must license farmworker labor camps and has registered about 300 camps in Oregon, Jimenez says there are at least another 300 unregistered camps.

Recent estimates show there are 90,000 farmworkers, a number that does not include workers' families.

The FHDC provides housing for 1,300 individuals in the Willamette Valley.

FHDC's primary source of funding is the low-income housing tax credit. The credit is applicable to housing for seasonal workers who, on average, make wages well below the poverty line.

But Jimenez says there have been challenges to the credit's application.

"The IRS said they had a change in policy and the low-income housing tax credit was no longer allowable for farmworker housing,” he states. “When we asked them why, they said that was because it discriminated against non-farmworkers."

Jimenez says he and housing developers across the country went to Congress to reverse this rule change, and in 2008 a law was passed allowing the tax credit to be used for farmworker housing again.

A bill to expand the credit was introduced in the U.S. Senate this month, and is cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden.

FHDC's projects occasionally face opposition from communities that don't want to see migrant worker housing in their area.

Jimenez says his organization connects with communities through their schools, churches and local elected officials.

"It's all about being clear what our program is, and building relationships," he stresses.

Jimenez says there are about 40 other community development corporations providing housing for low-income farmworkers.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR