CIRS Blog about Rural California
Napa and Sonoma counties were affected by wildfires in October 2017 spread by very high winds. Over 4,700 homes were destroyed, including 3,000 in Santa Rosa, and 10,000 were damaged; 43 people died and 100,000 people were displaced by the fires. Insured losses are over $7.5 billion, making the October 2017 fires the most costly in U.S. history.
With an unemployment rate of less than three percent in a county adding jobs faster than homes, median home prices in Sonoma County topped $650,000 in November 2017.
The fires were likely caused by sparking power lines downed by winds that gusted to more than 70 mph. The 2017 wine grape harvest was almost completed when the fires broke out, so speculation centered on the longer-term effects of the fires on wineries and their workers, some of whom lost both wages and their housing.
There is not enough farmworker housing. A combination of economic incentives, stricter regulation of housing quality, and worker preferences suggests there will continue be a shortage of affordable and decent housing for seasonal farmworkers.
Until the 1960s, many farmers housed seasonal workers on their farms in a bid to attract them and to have workers available when they were needed. On-farm housing was often offered at little or no cost, and workers did not incur costs to commute to work.
Unionization and tenant rights, as well as tougher regulations and enforcement, encouraged many farmers to eliminate on-farm housing, which they could do in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and continue to attract workers because unauthorized migrants flooded into the United States. Today, most farmworkers live in farmworker cities, often crowded into single family homes, and many commute in car- and van-pools to work.
Federal and state governments operate farmworker housing centers, most of which give preference to families and offer a range of health, education and other services to workers and their children. Solo males generally live off of the farm and away from subsidized centers, especially when they work in short-season crops, such as the three-month table grape harvest in the Coachella Valley.
California needs more housing, but zoning laws that require developers to "maintain neighborhood character" and limit how many unrelated people can live together raise housing prices and slow the migration of poorer people to boom areas such as San Francisco. Many of the tech workers in San Francisco earn $150,000 to $200,000 a year, and the city's median house price in summer 2016 was $1.1 million.
By some estimates, United States GDP could be increased by 10 percent if zoning restrictions were eased so that poor people could move to richer areas and enjoy higher wages without spending their extra earnings on housing. A state law supported by Governor Jerry Brown would make it harder for cities to saddle developers with open-ended design, permit and environmental reviews. Many people in desirable places want to pull up the drawbridge, arguing that allowing more people into their cities would degrade the quality of life.
In summer 2014, three major farm labor trends stand out: few labor shortages, many labor-saving changes, and segmenting farm labor contractors (FLCs.)
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 100 California communities -- and more than 900 communities across the nation -- will lose their eligibility for USDA rural housing programs on October 1, 2012. Of the 97 California communities that will be impacted, 64 are cities and 33 are census-designated places in unincorporated areas. These communities are scattered throughout the state, but more than half (50) are located in the San Joaquin Valley (31) and Inland Empire (19). Not coincidentally, these two regions have been major magnets for population growth over the last several decades. A current list of communities can be accessed at http://ruralhousingcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/USDA-List-of-Impacted-Communities_06272012.pdf. The USDA could release a final list as early as August.
by Gail Wadsworth and Vallerye Mosquera
The California Institute for Rural Studies, University of California, Davis and the Organización de Trabajadores Agrícolas de California recently completed a collaborative research project that focused on identifying the residential and community factors related to heat stress for farmworkers living in Stockton, California and the surrounding region. The goal of this research was to create a pilot tool for assessing community and residential site factors (i.e., those factors to which they are exposed outside of the agricultural work environment) that can exacerbate farmworkers’ exposure to heat and increase their risk of heat-related illness.
There are many heat stress prevention strategies for farmworkers that focus on correcting either individual behaviors (e.g., avoiding caffeinated beverages and bulky sweatshirts) or workplace conditions (e.g., providing shade and regular break periods). Yet, few heat stress-specific health plans take into consideration the conditions of the built and natural environment that farmworkers are returning to at the end of a long day in the fields.
For decades, the rural housing program has been a mainstay of national and state efforts to improve the living conditions of low-income people in the U.S. At the federal level, Congress adopted a series of initiatives during the 1930s to stabilize rural families on family farms and rehouse the Depression-era rural poor, which laid the groundwork for a national rural housing program. At the state level, since the mid-1970s, the state of California has operated programs targeted specifically to small towns and rural communities and amelioration of the dismal living conditions of farm workers and Native Americans.
At the forefront of these efforts in California has been a strong network of community-based, nonprofit and public organizations and agencies located throughout the state and delivering a variety of housing services. These services include: acquisition, rehabilitation, construction, and operation of rental housing for low-income families, the elderly and disabled, homeless, and farm workers; construction supervision and loan packaging for families participating in owner-build programs; rehabilitation and retrofits of existing owner-occupied homes; installation of sewer, water, and other infrastructure improvements; provision of supportive services; and foreclosure prevention intervention, homeownership counseling, financial literacy training, and asset-building. These services have been funded by an array of federal, state, and local government housing and community development programs, lending institutions, such as banks and nonprofit financial intermediaries, private investors, and others.
The California Coalition for Rural Housing (CCRH) was created in 1976 to represent the interests of this network of rural affordable housing providers and their clients and ensure continuing funding and supportive land use and planning laws. CCRH is the oldest statewide affordable housing coalition in the U.S. Our members include some of the oldest nonprofit housing development organizations in the country, groups that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s to provide decent and affordable homes for California farm workers and other rural poor. They include the largest producers of mutual self-help housing in the country, a precursor of Habitat for Humanity. They also include some of the largest operators of farm labor housing for permanent and migrant workers.
It is this highly successful network of sophisticated, mission-driven, rural housing providers that is currently seriously threatened by shrinking funding resources. The threats are manifold. But, with the threats come several new opportunities.