CAPITAL PRESS (Salem, Oregon)

February 5, 2018


Yakima looks at fostering farmworker housing


Tree fruit growers and a hops grower say they need housing for H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers, and the city of Yakima is considering a new zoning category to help them.


By Dan Wheat


YAKIMA, Wash. — The city of Yakima is considering a new zoning category that would allow seasonal farmworker housing within the city limits.

The city was approached by Borton Fruit of Yakima, Valicoff Fruit Co. of Wapato, the Martinez family and a hop grower looking to build or convert housing for H-2A-visa foreign agricultural guestworkers, said Joan Davenport, city community development director.

The city hearing examiner held a public hearing to receive testimony and determined a new zoning category would be needed, Davenport said.

Hearing Examiner Gary Cuillier asked the city planning commission to draft a proposed ordinance, hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the city council.

The commission has held one focus group and the whole process will take at least a couple of months, Davenport said.

“Agriculture is huge in Yakima. There has to be standards and criteria. It’s not a quick process. We’re moving as quick as we can,” she said.

Borton, Valicoff, Martinez and the hop grower have all talked about buying and converting hotels into H-2A housing or building new facilities, Davenport said.

“The point is they all need housing. We’re very supportive of converting underused hotels into worker housing,” she said.

H-2A housing would not be allowed in most residential districts but more likely in business or industrial districts, she said.

While farmworkers live in single-family residences there are no farmworker apartments or high-density farmworker dwellings in the city, Davenport said.

Yakima Housing Authority owns and manages 173 units of agricultural rental housing on 46 sites throughout Yakima County but they are outside the city.

Borton and Valicoff could not be reached for comment.

Heri Chapula, field services director for WAFLA farm labor association, said there are several small motels on North First Street suitable for leasing or sale that the companies would update to H-2A standards.

“They could meet the need and turn into a positive for the community, lift up an area,” Chapula said.

The Martinez family, connected with G&G Orchards, Cowiche, are the main ones asking and probably need housing for about 20 workers, he said.

Valicoff and Borton probably are each looking more in the 50- to 100-bed range, he said.

In general, small growers need H-2A housing and can’t afford to build or buy their own, he said.

WAFLA is not interested, at this time, in buying or building H-2A housing in Yakima, but is encouraging the companies to do so, Chapula said.

He said he and Mike Gempler, executive director of Washington Growers League in Yakima, spoke in favor of a farmworker housing zoning category at the hearing examiner’s Jan. 24 meeting.