SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Santa Clara County’s farmworkers may soon get some much-needed housing built after the Board of Supervisors decided to look into ways the county can develop more affordable housing. 

A new proposal sponsored by Supervisors Joe Simitian and Mike Wasserman will now allow the county to identify options for building affordable farmworker housing in the southern parts of the county, which encompasses the areas around Gilroy, Morgan Hill and South San Jose. 

“Our County has made a tremendous effort over the past few years to invest in affordable housing,” said Simitian. 

“But many of these developments have been based in the urban core of our County, while there is clearly also a significant need for affordable housing in more rural areas, where farmworkers often face extreme housing challenges due to low wages and a severe shortage of affordable homes.”

Simitian said his initial interest in farm labor housing began years ago with the work he did in the private sector to help create affordable farm labor housing on the coast of southern San Mateo County. 

That work eventually led to the creation of 160 units of farm labor housing that today serves hundreds of farmworkers and their families.

Organizer and advocate with the Farmworker Caravan, Darlene Tenes said the farmworker community faces many uphill battles post-COVID.  

“There’s a housing crisis for everybody but farm workers get paid about $15,000 a year.” 

“Can you imagine surviving on that in California with the housing, so a lot of them are homeless, near homeless, they have food insecurities, they’re just not able to feed their children.”

Over the 4th of July weekend, Farmworker Caravan will be providing agriculture workers in Salinas, who provide roughly 70% of the lettuce grown in the United States, with essential household supplies and children’s toys. 

“There are 1,600 children we’re trying to serve this weekend, they are all below the poverty line, and they’re homeless or have very unstable housing situations,” said Tenes. 

“They feed America and we’re celebrating the fourth of July this weekend. What better way to celebrate the fourth of July than to celebrate these people who are picking the food and feeding us,” Tenes added.

“And so when you’re having all those barbecues this weekend, think about that.”

To help feed farmworkers and their families, Hunger at Home will be donating food and groceries. 

Hunger at Home partners with local convention centers, hotels, and sports stadiums to collect excess food to distribute to those in need. 

“We’ve been concentrating on feeding them and it seems so appropriate because they’re the ones who have been making our lives so much better for so long.”

Assemblymember Roberto Rivas, who represents California’s 30th District, which includes parts of Santa Clara County with the cities of Gilroy and Morgan Hill, has been able to allocate $50 million towards the Joe Serna Farmworker Grant. 

The program funds to support housing for farmworkers and their families living in rural areas. 

“I was raised by immigrant farmworkers, I grew up in farmworker housing, so I’ve always known the incredibly hard work that our farm and agricultural workers have done each and every day,” said Rivas. 

“Certainly we need to do more in this space to ensure that we are providing dignified affordable housing for such an essential workforce that keeps us fed, not only our state, but our country fed,” Rivas added.

“We need to do more for them to ensure agriculture remains productive and that we do everything we can to ensure we achieve a sustainable food supply system and that begins with a healthy housed workforce.”

The Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan reports that the County’s agricultural industry employs over 8,000 residents and contributes around $830 million annually to the economy. 

But the County still has an estimated shortfall of over 1,400 seasonal and 700 long-term housing units to support the employment demands of the industry.

The county will return in September with options for consideration at the Board’s Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee meeting to invest and develop such housing in the southern parts of the county.