Recently, I had the privilege of taking part in a tour of several housing centers for our state’s migrant farmworkers hosted by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. I was eager to participate in this tour with Business, Consumer Services and Housing Secretary Anna Caballero because of our shared commitment to work “across Cabinet” to improve existing and develop new affordable and decent housing for farmworkers and their families. Access to safe, affordable housing is just one of many issues critical to our rural agricultural communities.
Earlier this year we received a report from the California Agricultural Workforce Housing and Transportation Project with recommendations to address the challenges and barriers to providing adequate housing and transportation to the agricultural workforce (www.aginnovations.org/workforce). Seeing housing centers firsthand was very informative. We toured three centers – Harney Lane Migrant Center (Lodi), Empire Migrant Center (Ceres) and Westley Migrant Center. Our one-day tour underscored the critical importance of the effort that is needed in our rural areas to provide decent housing for hundreds of workers who plant, pick and process our fruits, vegetables, nuts and other agricultural commodities. These centers are not just a space to sleep and eat, but a place for families to live and belong.
The primary message I took away from this experience was a simple recognition of the progress that has been made. But there is much more that needs to be done! The long-term viability of California agriculture depends upon agricultural workers who need safe, reliable and affordable transportation to their places of employment and a home that reflects their dignity and importance. This will require effective coordination at the regional, state and federal levels to improve existing housing stock and develop new affordable housing for farmworkers and their families. I applaud the dedication of the county housing authority leaders and center managers I met on the tour, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to make real, concrete improvements in the form of walls and floors and playgrounds that can make a difference today, and that will stand as examples for continued progress.