Farmers Lead Housing Initiatives

Written By: Steve Dutton, President
Published: November 2, 2018

Farmers Lead Housing Initiatives

Taking a strong position on local regulations and taxes is nothing new for Sonoma County Farm Bureau, but opposing the potential county-wide housing bond earlier this year garnered more conversation and attention than normal. Many people were used to Farm Bureau opposing new taxes, but against housing – how could that be?

For the record, farmers have been supporting workforce housing for decades including building structures to meet the growing need. We have chosen to invest in this effort personally to provide for our employees, so to be taxed in addition to the personal investment we already make didn’t seem fair or right. Wouldn’t an incentive be a better option?

According to a 2017 survey by the Sonoma County Winegrowers, 30% of grape growers provide Ag employee housing. Some of these are dormitory style homes for our increasing H2A guest workforce. Others are single family homes or multi-family units. In total over 950 units have been built or purchased to date. Many dairy farmers and ranchers also provide housing for the families who work on their farms. It is good for our farms, good for our farm families and good for our communities.

In addition, five farming families in the county are currently building additional dormitory style housing to accommodate an increasing H2A temporary guest workforce needed for the winegrape crop. Each one of these homes sleeps 37 people and goes through rigorous federal and state inspections to ensure that the building quality meets strict standards. Each housing unit is costing between $750,000 – $1,000,000. This is a critical investment to ensure the long-term preservation of farming and family business in Sonoma County.

“We need to hire additional temporary workers to meet our farming needs and wanted to make sure that we could provide the housing required for the H2A Guest Worker program ourselves without taxing the already complex and limited local housing supply” says Duff Bevill of Bevill Vineyard Management, who has been working on completing his new workforce home for over a year and is very proud of the investment in housing and his employees.

We all need to play a role in helping Sonoma County recover from last October’s devastation and ensuring that we have a strong and viable economy moving forward – housing is an essential part of that solution. For us winegrowers, it also plays an important part in our commitment to sustainability. Being sustainable is more than just land stewardship, it is about taking care of our employees. We realize that housing is a fundamental piece of helping support our workforce and we are continuing to invest.

When the Farm Bureau voted to oppose the potential county-wide housing bond, we did this because it would essentially double tax many of our farmers with employee housing living in the unincorporated areas of the county. We did, however, commit to supporting a Santa Rosa measure for housing in order to motivate additional housing within our city boundaries. This makes for a good partnership. If the cities can focus on building housing and access to affordable housing and ease of permitting, then the farmers can focus on investing in workforce housing for our ag employees. We all need to do our part and I am proud that our farmers have been leaders in providing housing for years.

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