The Othello Housing Authority’s new Lugar Seguro (Safe Place) housing development has 19 units designed to accommodate 96 farmworkers and family members. Each unit has two or three bedrooms, a bathroom, and fully equipped kitchen. The development has an on-site manager.
The Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing, in Yakima, Washington, helped the Housing Authority to develop the project, which opened this summer.
ORFH Executive Director Marty Miller said the Washington Department of Health’s closure of an unsanitary and unlicensed housing camp in Othello a couple of years ago drew attention to the lack of decent affordable housing for farmworkers. “It was in response to that that the Othello Housing Authority took action,” he related during an open day at Lugar Seguro on June 17.
Alan Hanks, executive director of the Othello Housing Authority, said he visited the camp when it was being investigated by the Department of Health and saw open sewers and other safety problems. The Housing Authority had already built or upgraded several year-round housing facilities for farmworkers and other low-income families, but recognized the need to provide new seasonal housing. “Our consciences wouldn’t allow us not to keep going,” he said.
Janet Masella, with the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, said the Green Camp had close to a hundred farmworkers living there, with more coming every day. Conditions were atrocious. “Most of us would not want to set foot in there, let alone bring our families there to sleep at night,” she said.
It highlighted that farmworkers continue to face unacceptable living conditions, she added. When the camp closed, the workers had nowhere to go and left the area, which impacted the growers.
Steve Becker, reading a message from Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, said a shortage of housing results in many workers and their families living in substandard and overcrowded conditions that lead to public health issues both for the migrant workers and the greater community. The Othello community’s efforts to increase access to decent housing showed a commitment to human dignity.
Miller noted the positive and ongoing evolution in seasonal housing in Washington—from unlicensed camps, to tents, to converted cargo containers, and now to quality houses that are still affordable to workers. He said the Housing Trust had been the lynchpin in creating thousands of affordable housing units and beds in the state.
Lugar Seguro was constructed at a cost of $2.5 million with funding from the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Housing Trust Fund and the Bank of Whitman. The Housing Authority acted as general contractor and used local services and materials where possible, creating a boost to the local economy. Total costs came in about $500,000 under budget.
Nancy Danko, project coordinator with the ORFH, said the units will be rented to farmworkers at a cost of about $8 to $9 a day, which covers the loan repayment and operating costs. The Housing Authority will allow growers to rent beds for their workers, although 10 percent of the beds must be available for walk-ins. It can be used for workers employed through the H-2A guest-worker program.
Although the facility will be open year round, occupants must be seasonal workers and cannot stay for more than a year.