Lawmakers working to ease California’s housing crisis should make sure that they address an urgent but easily overlooked need: housing for migrant farm workers.
Several pending bills touch on the topic, including AB 571 by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, to ease eligibility requirements for a state tax credit for developers to build migrant housing.
Senate Bill 2 by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and SB 3 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would provide funding to expand California’s 20-plus migrant housing centers.
Appropriately, the bills would leave administrative details to the Department of Housing and Community Development. As a side benefit, the additional money might help solve an issue raised in a Sacramento Bee editorial and a column by Sergio Lopez last month about the so-called 50-mile regulation.
Under that rule, to qualify for housing, residents must move at least 50 miles from state-owned housing every six months. Although there are reasons for the requirement, the rule has had an unintended consequence of uprooting children in the middle of school years, leading to unacceptably high drop-out rates. In some state-run camps, no migrant child has graduated from high school in decades.
There’s nothing magical about defining a migrant worker by the distance of 50 miles. It’s an arbitrary definition which no other department in the country uses. The department could require workers to move but not force parents to pull their children out of school. Imagine the possibilities of a little more money: decent housing for people who tend the orchards and harvest crops, and an education for their kids.