Farmworker Housing Bill: ‘No farmer is going to use this.’

Brian German Agri-Business, Legislative

farmworker housing
Farmworker housing in Calistoga

Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Assembly Bill 1783 (AB 1783) into law, significantly altering how farmworker housing will be administered in California.  AB 1783, the Farmworker Housing Act of 2019, was authored by Assemblymember Robert Rivas and sponsored by the United Farm Workers and UFW Foundation.  The bill discontinues any state funding for the development of H-2A housing and places the authority of ag worker housing into the hands of a third-party organization.

“If you read it by its title you would think this is a great thing for farmers,” said San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau Executive Director Brent Burchett.  “In fact, it does the complete opposite of what the bill purports to do and it was very unfortunate that Governor Newsom did choose to sign this into law.”

The intention of AB 1783 was described as streamlining the process for constructing housing for agricultural workers.  The bill does wave some of the regulatory burden related to construction, while it also authorizes separate organizations to take control of the property for a period of 55 years.  The new law also makes alterations to employee-housing rights.

While the bill was designed to address the shortage of adequate farmworker housing, Burchett believes that it will likely exacerbate the issue.  “This is the complete opposite of something that helps.  No farmer is going to use this.”

At a time when the H-2A program is beginning to become more of a viable option for California farmers, AB 1783 has discouraged its use by eliminating state support for the construction of temporary guest worker housing.   “We wasted all this time passing this law and researching this for something that nobody’s ever going to use.  It just sounds good to whoever sponsored it,” Burchett noted.  “I think we could have had something that might have benefited some farmers, but instead we had a political stance that really benefited nobody.”

Listen to Burchett’s interview below.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West