November 25, 2019

New Homes for Farmworkers in Washington Through Section 4 Grants

Mattawa Slop Phase II

Pictured: Mattawa Slope Phase II

Washington is a major agricultural state, producing 300 commercial crops and livestock products valued at $7.9 billion with 39,000 farms that operate on more than 15 million acres. Washington is the third largest agricultural exporter in the nation. Because it ranks first in the U.S. for production of 11 commodities (including apples, sweet cherries, pears and hops), Washington growers rely upon the availability of farmworkers throughout the agricultural season. 

Access to safe, affordable housing has been shown to attract farmworkers, who are critical to the success of labor-intensive agriculture in the state of Washington. It is estimated that Washington state employs approximately 100,000 farmworkers during peak season (this figure does not include dependents). Lack of access to safe, affordable housing is known to have contributed to labor shortages in the past, which have stressed small rural communities whose economies rely on the agricultural sector.   

The Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing (ORFH) received a $35,000 Section 4 grant from Enterprise’s Rural and Native American Program to train staff, build capacity and provide comprehensive development services for the creation of additional affordable homes in rural Washington state. ORFH is a statewide nonprofit corporation that has developed seasonal and year-round housing to serve some 7,000 farmworkers and their families, benefiting workers, employers, communities and the entire agricultural industry. ORFH’s mission is to improve the lives of farmworkers and other low-income individuals in rural communities through affordable housing, advocacy, building financial assets and other innovative solutions.

The Impact of a Good Development Protocol 

As one of their housing developments was moving toward closing on a tax credit partnership, some objections to the perceived impact to the community by local school and fire districts were raised during the environmental review. The objections had nothing to do with the environmental impact of the new housing, and the development team was able to directly address their concerns and defend their ability to use the property for housing.  

The development team provided data regarding current housing demand and the waiting list on a nearby development to support the fact that most new tenants would be from within the current service area and not from elsewhere. This was done to clarify the potential impacts of the project on the local school and fire districts, dispelling fears of negative service repercussions. Despite the delay, funding sources stood by the project and maintained their commitment.

Pictured: The development team for Royal City Phase II 

Although the process caused delays, ORFH and the team were able to continue forward with the development, which is expected to be completed in spring of 2020. “Having an experienced team with a dedicated architect who has senior volunteer fire fighter experience was extremely beneficial, informing his dialogue with the fire chief and successfully addressing concerns,” says Korbie Jorgensen Haley, ORFH director of Housing Policy. 

The unexpected environmental appeal in Royal City is an example of the importance of following good development protocol and documenting decisions as well as underlying data and assumptions, which allowed the team to successfully defend their environmental impact statement (no impact) and ability to develop affordable housing. 
Between the Royal City Phase II (in construction) and Mattawa Slope II (completed in early 2019) housing developments, 75 new farmworker homes will be added in rural Washington state via ORFH development work.  

Another planned development, Meadow Point Family Housing, not yet under construction, will serve low-income families with children, homeless veterans and people with special needs. All told, thanks to these three projects, nearly 550 people will have access to well-designed, well-built, affordable homes.

ORFH is celebrating its 40th year of affordable housing development, with a total housing investment in rural Washington of more than $260 million and the creation of 2,000 affordable rental homes that, when full, can accommodate more than 10,000 people. ORFH’s success has been built on constructive partnerships at the local, state and federal levels.  

“Developing affordable housing in rural Washington state has many complexities and issues that differ from our urban counterparts. By marshalling the right resources to address local needs, ORFH and our partners have been able to create thousands of units serving lower-income households in rural Washington state,” says Marty Miller, Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing (ORFH), executive director. 

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