Texas farmworker housing problems impact state’s agriculture industry

Farmworker housing in West Texas
Farmworker housing in West Texas

Motivation Education & Training, Inc (MET) the leading leading advocate and social service provider for Texas farmworkers.  It was founded for the purpose of providing academic and vocational training to migrant and seasonal farm workers, with the objective of furthering economic self-sufficiency. MET has conducted programs to improve farmworkers’ housing situations since the 1970’s.

Kathy Tyler, MET’s housing services director recently wrote to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) describing the serious housing challenges Texas farmworkers and the agriculture industry face.

MET’s farmworker clients have an average income of $7,723 – 50 percent of the poverty level – extremely low earnings for working families! Yet only six peercent receive public assistance. More than in past years, MET clients have difficulty with English and need longer time periods to learn English – 54 percent have limited English profficiency. They encounter difficulty filling out forms and understanding legal documents (leasees, mortgagees, intake forms). Most have no experience with computers. Fifty-two percent migrate to other parts of Texas and/or other states too perform farm labor.

Urgency for farmworker housing resources in Texas is growing. Because agriculture is a leading economic driver in the state, the effect of labor shortages related to housing shortages will likely have a negative impact on the state’s economic climate. The sheer number of farmworkers in Texas, home to the second most farmworkers behind California, demonstrate  the contribution of farmworkers to the state’s $85 million gross domestic product from agriculture.

Growers in Colorado and Nevada have experienced this downward trend in the agricultural economy for some years and relate it directly to documented workers who are unwilling to migrate to areas with no housing. For the first time in Texas history, growers are finding that labor housing shortages are negatively impacting the crops they produce. Acreage for the famous “Pecos cantaloupe” in West Texas first declined, then production stopped outright on the largest farm when Pecos housing authority units were no longer available to migrants during the harvesting season. After a three-year closing of farmworker housing operated by the housing authority in Floydada, one of the primary growers in the region decided to retire. The Texas Vegetable Association President and staff at the Texas Workforce have voiced concerns about labor shortages resulting from lack of available housing for farmworkers. TDHCA’s migrant facilities inspectors also attest to hearing producers often talk about the lack of suitable housing for their workers.

In recognition of the historic lack of decent housing options for farmworkers, and the recent upswing in scarcity that is affecting agricultural production, the following priorities were established for farmworker housing during the first Summit and affirmed in subsequent Summits:

  1. assist nonprofit and grower initiatives to develop new and maintain existing housing for farmworkers;
  2. preserve existing Section 514/516 farm labor housing in the state;
  3. expand the number of Section 514/516 units (Texas does not currently have its fair share of 514/516 units if the number of farmworkers in the state is compared to the number of existing 514/516 units in the state);
  4. develop additional sources of financing for farmworker housing;
  5. provide technical assistance, where requested, to potential housing developers to build the housing and operating capacity in the state.
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