Study digs into housing crisis impact on CA farmworkers

California launches an in-depth farmworker housing needs study to inform state policy, better support the state’s agricultural workforce

Male farm worker holding palette of strawberries while standing in a field
Serena Bettis
Published March 29, 2024  • 
12:00 pm

SACRAMENTO – California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is sowing the seeds to data-informed policymaking with the launch of the California Farmworker Housing Study, which will take a comprehensive look at farmworker housing needs across the state.

HCD is partnering with the University of California, Davis Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS) to conduct the study, which was initiated by Assembly Bill 1654 in September 2022. With the study, HCD hopes to build up its understanding of the housing crisis, particularly as it impacts the hundreds of thousands of farmworkers in California.

The study will include community input, listening sessions, key source interviews, quantitative analysis and a housing survey to compile farmworker perspectives on housing and housing production, analyze farmworker household demographics and conduct a farmworker housing needs analysis based on input and datasets, according to an announcement from the HCD.

Pursuant to AB 1654, the study will inform a “comprehensive strategy for meeting the housing needs of the state’s farmworkers,” prepared by the HCD and submitted to the State Legislature no later than Jan. 1, 2027.

HCD Housing Data Section Chief Spike Friedman said that from the department’s perspective, the HCD is trying “to ensure that we are increasing the supply of affordable places for folks to live in California — that we are doing research to understand the housing crisis, its causes and the specific areas where it is most impactful.”

Farmworkers make up a community that is disproportionately impacted by the housing crisis, Friedman said, and the state has a “large base of agricultural workers that either reside in and work in high-cost areas or work in rural areas” that may have different needs than more populous regions of the state.

With that in mind, the farmworker housing study will assess that need so the HCD can deploy its resources as effectively as possible, Friedman said. 

As a partner on the study, the UC Davis WCAHS will provide its expertise in working with farmworker and agricultural communities and use its existing partnerships with external organizations to help with outreach, data gathering and analysis.

WCAHS Program Manager Heather Riden said that alongside partnerships with external organizations, such as nonprofit California Coalition for Rural Housing, the WCAHS is bringing on board faculty from the UC Davis agricultural and resource economics department and the public health sciences department. 

Those faculty will help with “really critical administrative analysis of different datasets,” and bring in previous, extensive field research in agricultural communities, Riden said.

The study will be an in-depth, multi-year process and the HCD is going to be leveraging its existing partnerships to move forward with initiating outreach, Friedman said. 

Some of the initial work done to prepare for the data-gathering element has involved reviewing previous research, looking at regions across the state where farmworkers are and connecting with organizations that are already in place in those regions. 

Friedman said some of the regions they’re looking at include places where past research has maybe underrepresented farmworkers, such as the southern part of the Central Coast and the Imperial Valley, and the large, well-known areas like the San Joaquin Valley.

A key piece of this work is to keep the voice of farmworkers and farmworker communities centered upfront, Riden said. 

“The last thing we want to do is pose questions to workers that, one, have been asked before and didn’t make sense the last time, or are going to result in findings that aren’t actionable because they don’t make sense on the ground to the people who live in the communities,” Riden said. 

Riden said the study will question both the housing needs and wants of farmworkers to help the state understand how farmworkers prioritize their needs and then what some of the barriers are to the production of farmworker housing. It will then combine all of those elements to create policy recommendations.

“We want to be able to speak directly to the lived experience of people who work in this field and are struggling to find affordable, safe and sanitary housing,” Friedman said. “So for us, we’re trying to understand as best as we can so that we can take action from a place that is truly informed by that lived experience.”

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter