March 30, 2018


Officials confirm Borton Fruit's plans for farmworker housing at Yakima motel


By Kaitlin Bain

YAKIMA, Wash. — After months of speculation, two Yakima city employees have confirmed that Borton Fruit bought a hotel on North First Street with the intention of creating farmworker housing.

At a special meeting of the Yakima City Council earlier this week, assistant city manager Ana Cortez-Steiner said the company’s desire to turn the hotel into farmworker housing was one of the main reasons the city is considering amending an ordinance to allow temporary farmworker housing within the city limits.

“A couple months ago, Borton Fruit purchased one of the North First Street hotels with the intention of putting migrant housing in that location,” she said at the meeting.

But the fruit giant — operating as First Street Holdings LLC — has been largely quiet about its plans for the former FairBridge Inn and Suites at 1507 N. First St. since purchasing it for $3.2 million at the end of 2017.

Calls to the company for comment have not been returned.

Former hotel owner Steve Rice said his company decided to sell after the city of Yakima failed to improve North First Street.

He also said he’s excited about the Bortons’ vision for the property, but wouldn’t say what he’d been told.

After the sale in late January, chief visionary officer Byron Borton said no firm decisions on the hotel’s use had been made. For the time being, Borton Fruit was fixing the building’s roof, gutting the kitchen and making other repairs.

In January, Borton Fruit said it may resell the property and that one potential buyer is considering using the property for farmworker housing.

This isn’t the only group seeking to create farmworker housing in Yakima.  

A private resident is proposing a 20-person facility at 305 W. Lincoln Ave. and is waiting for the council’s determination on land use.

Under the federal government’s H-2A program, sometimes called guest worker program, employers must provide housing for workers. Workers can be brought here only if the employer can prove a labor shortage.

Experts say growers will rely on H-2A workers more in the future as President Donald Trump’s administration increases border restrictions and increases deportation. That’s expected to decrease the number of people coming from foreign countries that may have in the past provided low-cost labor, prompting the need for H-2A workers.

Allowing farmworker housing within city limits would be a benefit to workers because they would no longer be dependent on their employers for transportation into town to shop for food and other supplies  

Growers say not being required to build housing closer to their farms means valuable farmland won’t be wasted.

The Yakima City Council is expected to vote Tuesday to set May 1 as the date for a public hearing on the proposed changes.