The Washington State Farmworker Housing Trust
Farmworkers have faced a shortage of decent, affordable housing since the Depression. Thirty percent of farmworker families live in severely substandard housing, and nearly 60 percent live in overcrowded conditions. With incomes averaging just $16,800 per year for a family of four, these workers cannot compete for housing in rural Washington. As a result, farmworkers and their families are often forced to sleep in their cars, crowd into dilapidated housing, or camp on public property. Historically, growers and supporters of farmworkers have disagreed about the solution.
In 2003, U.S. Senator Patty Murray brought together representatives of growers, advocates, developers and other community stakeholders, and challenged them to come up with a strategy to solve the problem. Cedar River Group was asked to provide support for that group.
Cedar River Group helped stakeholders create the Washington State Farmworker Housing Trust, a private, nonprofit organization charged with building “a stronger and better agricultural community in Washington by securing and allocating resources to meet the full spectrum of housing and related needs of farmworkers and their families.” The Cedar River Group staffed the Trust’s Board of Trustees, performed a needs assessment, a national study of best practices, and created a strategic plan to dramatically increase housing for farmworkers and their families. We also helped the board work with state legislators and Congress to increase funding, and raise dollars from private and philanthropic sources.
The Trust became a strong coalition of diverse interests working in common cause. In the 2005 session of the Legislature, the Trust and its allies successfully increased the State Housing Trust Fund from $80 million to $100 million per biennium, and doubled the goal for money to be dedicated to farmworker projects. In addition, a $2.5 million infrastructure matching fund was created to encourage the development of seasonal housing sponsored by growers. In 2006, the Trust secured $3 million in additional state funding for farmworker projects. Cedar River Group helped secure more than $2 million in private, philanthropic and federal funding to increase the capacity of rural housing providers to create and manage high-quality farmworker housing projects.