As growers in Salinas Valley continue to face a labor shortage and the coronavirus pandemic exposes the peril of crowded living conditions in many agricultural communities, new farmworker housing projects are moving forward with the hope of making a dent in the problem.
In the past weeks, construction crews broke ground on a seven-building project for up to 800 workers in Greenfield, after City Council delayed granting the final building permit for months.
The first two buildings are slated for completion by March 2021, according to the developer Mike Avila, whose family will own the property, leasing out units to growers. Duda Farm Fresh Foods is under contract for the two buildings and will house mostly seasonal H-2A workers there. Each bedroom can host four workers and comes with two bathrooms and a kitchen. The complex will also include hundreds of parking spots, laundry rooms and recreation areas.
“The housing is very on par with what you would see in a college dormitory,” Avila says. “High ceilings, good ventilation, very generous space.”
Another, even larger project being developed by Avila on behalf of an anonymous ownership group was approved unanimously by the Monterey County Planning Commission on June 24. With 10 two-story buildings designed to house up to 1,200 workers, the Harvest Moon project off North Davis Road on the outskirts of Salinas would become the largest development of its kind in the region.
Both projects are modeled after two existing farmworkers housing sites that Avila built: the 800-bed Spreckels Crossing for Tanimura & Antle and 600-bed Casa Boronda for Nunes Company.
“The farming community is making a big investment in housing,” Avila says. “I want to make sure the growers get recognition for what they are doing so that they keep doing it.”
The housing can help alleviate the shortage in the Salinas Valley, he adds. But it also helps the growers themselves – high housing costs make it hard to attract enough labor during harvest season.
A 2018 study found that about 33,000 housing units are needed to meet the demand of farmworker households in the Salinas and Pajaro valleys. The study, by the California Institute for Rural Studies, also found that 20 percent of the agricultural workforce, or 18,300 people, are migrants, who need temporary housing.
The new housing projects are springing up as the coronavirus takes a disproportionate toll on the Monterey County’s farmworkers. At least 589 of the county’s 1,642 confirmed Covid-19 cases, or about 37 percent, are farmworkers, the largest group by far.