SALEM, Ore. — An Oregon Housing and Community Services Agricultural Worker Housing Study substantiates that most of the state’s farmworkers earn very low wages, and many farmworker households are in poverty. Due to low wages and a lack of affordable housing, Oregon’s farmworkers have few housing options and often live in poor and overcrowded conditions.
“Farmworkers have long been an essential backbone to our state. Centering their humanity, dignity, and well-being, requires we continue advancing safe and healthy farmworker housing—as we do in service to all people of Oregon,” said OHCS Director Andrea Bell. “It’s important to acknowledge that migrant and seasonal agricultural workers and their families are the foundation of Oregon’s large agricultural sector. Lack of housing options leads to health disparities that leave generational impacts. This is not abstract. Seeing ourselves in one another requires that we take care of those that sustain our food system.”
There are more than 531,000 jobs connected to Oregon agriculture, food, and fiber, and agriculture contributes $42 billion to Oregon’s economy each year. As of 2017, there are an estimated 100,122 farmworkers in Oregon, doing the skilled and difficult work of growing, picking, and packing food.
The report is the culmination of almost four years of work. In December 2017, the Data and Research Subcommittee of the Agricultural Workforce Housing Facilitation Team (AWHFT) recommended OHCS commission the in-depth study. The goal was to update statewide information on agriculture workforce housing to better understand the current needs and barriers to help inform future program decisions, funding opportunities, and policy decisions.
OHCS commissioned Stamberger Outreach Consulting to conduct the study in Hood River, Marion, Morrow, and Yamhill counties. The report focuses on how to optimize the use of available resources, review current housing, as well as understanding what policies and funding options encourage employers to offer housing, and increase innovation in the provision of housing.
“A central goal of this study was to hear the experiences and recommendations of farmworkers and agricultural employers to ensure their voices were included in this process,” said Jamie Stamberger, author of the study and research director at Stamberger Outreach Consulting. “We interviewed 80 farmworkers and nine agricultural employers, as well agency experts. Through these interviews and our analysis of available data, our team identified eight critical issues for farmworker housing. These issues must be addressed in order to meet the need for farmworker housing.”
Some of the key recommendations of the study include the following:
- Increase farmworker incomes.
- Provide direct rental assistance to farmworkers.
- Increase the supply of housing that farmworkers can afford.
- Develop programs to provide special clearance and/or requirements, or co-signers, for farmworkers to satisfy rental application and mortgage loan requirements.
- Support lower-cost alternative homeownership models including community land trusts and housing cooperatives that provide ownership opportunities for farmworkers.