MONTEREY HERALD

May 11, 2017

 

Study to look at lack of affordable housing for farmworkers

 

By Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Monterey Herald

 

SALINAS, CA --- When discussing an ongoing labor shortage in agriculture, experts cite a host of reasons including declining birth rates in Mexico, increased security at the border and availability of other non-agricultural jobs.

But there’s another reason that has not received as much attention: lack of affordable farmworker housing. It’s an issue that will be the focus of a study to be conducted this summer by the California Institute for Rural Studies in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

Gail Wadsworth, executive director of the Davis-based institute, said the hiring of survey takers is underway as well as other preparations for the assessment. Data collection will take place in June and July, she said, and local organizations and employers are partnering with the institute to help in the effort.

“So far it’s looking pretty good, we’re getting a lot of positive responses from employers,” she said. “We’ll do those (surveys) in workplaces and recruit the workers.”

Experts say the ongoing labor shortage in agriculture is related to declining birth rates in Mexico, where most of the field workers traditionally come from. Increased border security has also discouraged illegal immigration, and undocumented immigrants have reliably found work in the fields.

This year, all those reasons will be compounded with fears of potential enforcement crackdowns, as President Donald Trump has vowed to increase deportation of undocumented immigrants. Many field workers live and work in the United States illegally.

But agricultural employers have said lack of affordable housing has also been a factor, Wadsworth said, citing the example of Tanimura & Antle and its construction of a housing complex for 800 workers.

Growers said “there were people currently in the U.S. willing to work, as long as there’s housing in the area,” she said. “We’ll know for sure after the survey. It’s a combination of all those things. People are afraid, it’s a really scary time.”

Surveys will be done in Spanish by native speakers to make takers more comfortable, Wadsworth said. The responses will remain confidential, an issue that is likely to come up given heightened concerns about potential immigration crackdowns.

“We’re working with local organizations to let workers know not be afraid,” she said. “We’ll have radio and television public service announcements on the air, (Congresswoman) Anna Caballero will be doing some radio public service ads. We’re working through the local Catholic church, they have a close relationship with farmworkers.”

The institute has conducted studies around farmworker issues such as health and housing for 40 years, and Wadsworth said they’ve always been careful with the information they gather.

“Basically, we create codes for individuals, both employers and employee. Everything is anonymous and all of it confidential,” she said. “It’s important for workers to know since much of the fear comes from who’s going to get the information, so we’re going to treat that very carefully.”