Housing bill sent to governor’s desk

The Farmworker Housing Act of 2019, introduced by Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Hollister, passed the California Assembly and State Senate.

For Rivas, who represents the 30th district in the Assembly, the passage of the bill in his first term is personal. His grandfather was a farmworker, and when Rivas was younger, he and his family lived in farmworker housing.

The bill creates a streamlined process for farmworker housing to be built on agricultural land. Several cities within Rivas’ district supported the bill, including Hollister, Morgan Hill, Salinas, San Juan Bautista and Soledad.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 13 to sign the bill. If Newsom signs the bill into law, then it will become active Jan. 1, 2020. The Farmworker Housing Act of 2019 passed the Assembly with a concurrence vote of 57 to 16 and the state Senate with a vote of 27 to 10.

Rivas told this paper he has worked with Newsom and is hopeful Newsom will sign the bill.

Currently, if a farm owner wants to build worker housing on farm property, it is a long process of zoning changes, with smaller farm owners unable to provide the kind of housing their workers need. Rivas’ bill provides exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for farmworker housing, and does not require property owners to apply for a zoning change.

The federal government currently provides a program known as H-2A that allows farm owners to sponsor temporary workers from foreign countries. Rivas has said that the Farmworker Housing Act would provide an option for the 75 percent of farmworkers who are U.S. residents and for the small farm owners who cannot afford to participate in H-2A.
One of the amendments made to the bill before its passage capped the number of units allowed in each development at 36.
In a press release sent by Rivas, civil rights activist Dolores Huerta offered support for the plan. “It is an important first step in addressing our farmworker housing crisis and an opportunity for employers and farmworkers to work together,” said Huerta.
Rivas said farm owners would be eligible to use state funding to partially fund the projects, allowing them to provide low- or no-rent housing. After being built, the developments would be run by local non-profit organizations.
“AB 1783 would have a direct impact on the farmworkers in our community because it would increase housing production for farm workers who currently cannot afford to live, and raise their families where they work because of the extremely high cost of rents and home ownership in California,” Rivas told this paper in an email.
“This bill would protect our farmworkers from housing instability and displacement because it would incentivize farm owners and operators to build more affordable farmworker housing on their private lands, which would ensure that farmworkers be housed in dignified, quality housing.”

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