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‘We Have a Moment Here’: An Urgent Push for Farmworker Housing in Wake of Half Moon Bay Tragedy

By Tyche Hendricks, KQED, February 24, 2023

“In the month since the January 23rd mass shooting — in which seven workers at a pair of mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay were shot and killed … farmworker housing has been a central concern here. And [Joaquín] Jiménez Ureña [vice mayor of Half Moon Bay] and other community leaders — as well as farmworkers themselves — are aiming to transform the tragedy into urgently needed investments in decent, affordable housing.

“When Gov. Gavin Newsom arrived after the shooting rampage to console survivors, only to discover that some were living in uninsulated shipping containers, he expressed outrage and vowed investigations.

“Unlike other agricultural regions of the state, which have housing challenges of their own, San Mateo’s farming communities are smack in the middle of the expensive Bay Area, just over the hill from Silicon Valley and tucked between beachfront homes and luxury resorts, making the affordability crisis especially acute.

“[Half Moon Bay mayor Deborah] Penrose said the deplorable conditions the mushroom workers were living in served as a reminder of a much larger problem: ‘It has put back into the spotlight the lack of affordable housing — period — on the coast. The fact that our essential workers can’t afford to live here and we are losing them.’

“Supervisor David Canepa said the county has also committed another $3.3 million over two years for farmworker housing. And he pointed to a county loan program for farm owners to build or repair homes for workers. But he said the county can’t do it alone.

“Last week the Newsom administration announced grants totaling $42.8 million to three housing developers to build more than 200 affordable units across San Mateo County — though just 18 of them are reserved for farmworkers.

“Complaining about substandard housing can mean risking one’s job, says Lucia Lin, an organizer with the Chinese Progressive Association in San Francisco who has been helping the Mandarin-speaking farmworkers who survived the attack at the Half Moon Bay mushroom farms.

“Meanwhile, San Mateo County officials are launching an inspection task force, to force farmers to upgrade housing that doesn’t meet building codes or health and safety regulations. County Executive Mike Callagy said the multiagency team will work with farm owners to bring housing into compliance, but they will get tough on bad actors.

“Jiménez Ureña applauded the effort but worries that a crackdown could leave workers homeless. He said he’s seen too many cases where landlords ignore problems until they get complaints, then force the tenants out, renovate the units and put them back on the market at double the rent.
“But Jiménez Ureña believes that the attention the shooting has brought to the needs of farmworkers has the potential to unlock the resources and political will to create more decent housing that agricultural workers can afford, in Half Moon Bay and beyond.”

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