When I drove the backroads of Santa Cruz County, Calif., where I lived for many years, I would pass the region’s many strawberry fields. It was easy to spot the hunched-over backs of the farmworkers who were picking the red berries.
The workers were there in the light of day, harvesting the county’s top crop. Strawberries have a total value of roughly $154 million a year to the region, which also boasts of apples and other crops. In the evenings, the workers would disappear to their labor camp trailers, apartments, or wherever else they went at night. In the darkness, they were out of sight and out of mind.
In this issue, AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE puts them in the forefront and looks at the challenges of housing farmworkers. Their low incomes make these workers among the nation’s hardest to house. We also write about permanent supportive housing for the homeless.
For the farmworker housing story, I had the opportunity to interview Alfredo Valdovinos, who works in the lemon orchards in Southern California.
He was thankful for his new affordable apartment, which replaced the converted garage where his family had been living. The new residence provided them the luxury of dining together at the same table, something they couldn’t do before. One didn’t need to understand Spanish to comprehend the feelings behind his words.
Valdovinos and the nation’s many other farmworkers serve us all by bringing us our food.
For this issue, I also talked with a 50-yearold woman, who served us through her military duty in the Army. She lives at the Mary E. Walker House in Pennsylvania, where homeless women veterans can go and live for up to two years. Experts say that female veterans are among the growing ranks of the homeless.
The farmworker and the veteran represent just two groups that the affordable housing industry serves. These particular individuals are fortunate because they have a place to go at night. However, these are only two housing developments. Many more need to be built.
According to the latest State of the Nation’s Housing report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, one in seven U.S. households is severely housing costburdened, more than 2.1 million households live in severely inadequate housing, and about 750,000 people are homeless on any given night.
We understand how hard it is to build housing for the homeless and other specialneeds populations, and we applaud the developers who build these difficult projects. It’s tough work, and it looks like more of it is in store. A report by the Corporation for Supportive Housing and Enterprise shows that more states are encouraging, sometimes even requiring, the development of supportive housing through their low-income housing tax credit programs.
To the critics of such edicts, we say work closely with your housing finance agencies to find creative solutions. Lobby for additional housing money and call on new partners, including those from the agriculture industry and mental health and justice systems, who have a stake in easing the housing problem.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the farmworkers, the homeless, and others once the day fades into night.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE has created a new department, Green Scene, to help educate developers on going green. We will showcase case studies of green and environmentally friendly developments and rehabs in each issue. If you have a green project that you would like to see profiled, please e-mail [email protected].