Santa Clara County official presses for more farmworker housing
Santa Clara County needs 700 homes for year-round farmworkers and about double that for seasonal workers. Only 61 homes are in the planning stage. File photo.

Years of inadequate housing and resources have plagued local farmworkers for decades as they struggle to make ends meet. That might take a favorable turn if Santa Clara County officials prioritize their needs.

Supervisor Sylvia Arenas, who represents the more rural District 1, introduced recommendations to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to help address the housing shortage faced by farmworkers. The county needs 700 homes for year-round workers and about double that for seasonal workers. Only 61 homes are in the planning stage.

There are about 8,000 agricultural workers in the county, part of an industry that generates about $340 million annually for the local economy, according to the Santa Clara County 2021 Crop Report.

Maria Orduño, an agricultural worker who lives in the Arturo Ochoa Migrant Center, which has 100 apartments for workers and their families, said that her peers struggle to find affordable housing and often end up sleeping in their cars.

“There should be more communication between elected officials and the employers of farmworkers. There should be more accountability,” Orduño told San José Spotlight through a Spanish interpreter.

Arenas, whose father was a farmworker, said this is the first step toward having a meaningful discussion in assisting these workers.

“It’s our responsibility as human beings to recognize the social issues that impact the most vulnerable, and this is one of the most vulnerable (populations) in our county,” Arenas told San José Spotlight. “We need to have some on-site farmworker housing. The reality is that people live where they work. This is their reality and we need to meet people where they’re at.”

Arenas wants an agricultural housing plan that includes a timeline for building at least 250 homes on county land and a list of the necessary resources for farmworkers outlined in 90 days. Her recommendations also direct the board to give verbal progress reports to the housing, land use, environment and transportation committee.

Darlene Tenes, founder of Farmworker Caravan, an organization aimed at assisting farmworkers, said she’s glad to see the county addressing the problem.

“I’d love to see this come to fruition,” Tenes told San José Spotlight. “People forget that we still have a lot of agriculture in Santa Clara County … It is great that we are prioritizing that. It is (a) big industry in California and we need to respect the workers.”

In the 1990s, the county anticipated it would need to build about 2,800 agricultural single-family and group homes in the next 15 years. As of 2020, there are less than 1,8000 homes.

Jeremy Barousse, director of policy and organizing at Amigos de Guadalupe, said the move will help set the tone for how to assist local farmworkers who are often overlooked.

“We know this will go a long way in ensuring that agricultural workers can stay in the communities that they’re living in and work in this community that they’re working in, and be able to raise their families here in the same communities that they are working in,” Barousse told San José Spotlight.

State Sen. Dave Cortese, while on the board of supervisors with former District 1 Supervisor Mike Wasserman, worked to help address the housing issue. Cortese said Arenas is taking things in the right direction.

“These are the people who are literally bringing the food into the buffet lines, (to) the kitchen tables, the dining room tables, (for) the upcoming Thanksgiving meals,” Cortese told San José Spotlight. “None of that happens without this workforce. ”

Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Jeremy Barousse is related to San José Spotlight co-founder Josh Barousse.

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