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Home >Case Studies >Yakima County, Washington: Creative Use of Farmworker Housing Aids Homeless Families

 

Yakima County, Washington: Creative Use of Farmworker Housing Aids Homeless Families

 

Yakima County sits in a major agricultural region in central Washington state where cultivating fruit, including pears, cherries, and especially apples, constitutes a significant share of the economy. Seasonal workers help plant, grow, and harvest crops from early April through November. As in many areas with seasonal economies, Yakima’s housing needs fluctuate throughout the year, and the Yakima Housing Authority (YHA) operates affordable housing specifically to accommodate some of these seasonal workers. In other ways, housing needs in the county mirror those in many other jurisdictions, and some year-round residents find themselves facing housing insecurity in a tight housing market. During the winter of 2016–2017, YHA pioneered a creative use of the Cosecha Court apartment complex, located in the city of Granger, to meet the needs of both seasonal workers and local families at risk of homelessness.

Housing for a Seasonal Agricultural Economy

American agricultural production relies in part on workers hired for an entire season by a single farm, which typically will provide onsite housing. Other workers, who migrate among several locations, must find their own housing. Known as walkup workers and traveling sometimes with friends, sometimes with family, and sometimes alone, these seasonal workers require housing that is both flexible and affordable. Cosecha Court targets this transient worker population. Built in 2013 by YHA, the development consists of 10 two-bedroom units in 5 duplex buildings. The facility can house approximately 75 people at a time, with workers traveling alone sharing bedrooms with four beds each, as in a hostel, and workers with families occupying more private bedrooms with three beds each. A worker pays $6 per day for a bed in one of the congregate rooms; a family rents a bedroom for $15 per day.

Cosecha Court, which cost $3.55 million to construct, was funded primarily through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing Loan and Grant program (table 1). Additional support came from the Washington State Housing Trust Fund and the HUD Community Development Block Grant Housing Enhancement program. If needed, rents can be subsidized through the USDA Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance program, which, like HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program, uses vouchers to ensure that residents pay no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.

Table 1: Financing for Cosecha Court

USDA Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing Loan and Grant$3,000,000
Washington State Housing Trust Fund296,000
HUD Community Development Block Grant Housing Enhancement program254,000
Total$3,550,000

Using a Housing Resource Creatively

Because USDA and state programs fund housing only for agricultural workers, the Yakima Housing Authority initially had been forced to shutter Cosecha Court when the agricultural season ended. Although YHA would perform some maintenance during the off-season, the facility was not used during three of the coldest months of the year. YHA officials saw a missed opportunity to address homelessness, a problem made acute by the county’s low vacancy rates and made dangerous in the harsh winter months. A study by the Runstad Department of Real Estate at the University of Washington found the rental vacancy rate in Yakima County to be 0.8 percent in spring 2018, less than the state rate and well below the national rate. As a result, the most common request homeless families make to Yakima service providers is for help with their search for permanent housing. In 2018, the county’s annual Point-in-Time survey located 638 homeless individuals, including 61 families with children under 18. The survey also found that 56 percent of the 311 households actively looking for housing took more than 6 months to find a home.

USDA and state agencies recognized the potential benefit and granted YHA permission to use Cosecha Court for a purpose outside its funded mandate. Working with two local service providers, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services and the Northwest Community Action Center, YHA agreed that temporary housing for families experiencing homelessness was the best use of Cosecha Court in the winter. This solution, aimed at households needing assistance to secure permanent housing rather than intensive services, would keep units in good order to fulfill their primary function and fit into the limited timeframe Cosecha Court could be occupied by nonagricultural residents. The two partner service providers refer families to Cosecha Court and give them 30 days to locate permanent housing, although caseworkers will readily grant extensions if the families are making progress on their search.

Although this use of Cosecha Court only partially addresses homeless families’ need for adequate and stable housing, it is making a difference in people’s lives. In the program’s inaugural year, 14 participant families were able to secure permanent housing. In total, the program sheltered 89 individuals, including 49 children, for 1,914 bed nights. The program has other benefits, such as relieving the burden on local churches, which typically provide temporary housing for homeless families. In addition, YHA can deploy an otherwise idle resource at no additional cost. The service providers benefit by paying the $15 nightly rate for families, the same rate available to farmworkers and significantly less than the average of $50 per night for a hotel voucher; the savings allowed providers to accommodate an additional 378 bed nights during the initial season. Recognizing the value of this unique program, the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials named YHA a 2018 winner of its Award of Excellence in Affordable Housing. The Cosecha Court program shows what can happen when difficult problems are approached cooperatively and creatively.


 

Source:

Jon DeVaney. 2012. “Yakima Valley Agriculture: Growing Crops and the Economy.” Accessed 8 April 2019; Interview with Lowel Krueger, executive director, Yakima Housing Authority, 18 March 2019; Ashanti Wright. 2019. “Award of Excellence: Cosecha Court,Journal of Housing and Community Development, 28 March. Accessed 8 April 2019; Yakima Valley Conference of Governments. 2018. “Yakima County 2018 Homeless Point-in-time Count Process and Survey Results.” Accessed 8 April 2019; Yakima Housing Authority. n.d. “Farmworker Housing.” Accessed 25 April 2019; Yakima Neighborhood Health Services. 2017. “2016 Annual Report.” Accessed 25 April 2019; University of Washington, Runstad Department of Real Estate, Washington Center for Real Estate Research. 2018. “Washington State Apartment Market Report — Spring 2018.” Accessed 25 April 2019.

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Source:

Walker Construction. “Cosecha Court.” Accessed 8 April 2019; Interview with Lowel Krueger, executive director, Yakima Housing Authority, 18 March 2019; Housing Authority of the City of Yakima. 2017. “Comprehensive Annual Financial Report: Year Ended December 31, 2016.” Accessed 8 April 2019.

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Source:

National Rural Housing Coalition. 2014. “Impact Report: The Economic and Human Impact of Nonprofit Organizations on Rural America.” Accessed 8 April 2019; Housing Assistance Council. 2008. “USDA Farm Labor Housing Loans and Grants (Sections 514/516).” Accessed 8 April 2019; Housing Authority of the City of Yakima. 2017. “Comprehensive Annual Financial Report: Year Ended December 31, 2016.” Accessed 8 April 2019; Interview with Lowel Krueger, executive director, Yakima Housing Authority, 18 March 2019.

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Source:

Interview with Lowel Krueger, executive director, Yakima Housing Authority, 18 March 2019; Yakima Valley Conference of Governments. 2018. “Yakima County 2018 Homeless Point-in-time Count Process and Survey Results.” Accessed 8 April 2019; University of Washington, Runstad Department of Real Estate, Washington Center for Real Estate Research. 2018. “Washington State Apartment Market Report — Spring 2018.” Accessed 8 April 2019; Ashanti Wright. 2019. “Award of Excellence: Cosecha Court,” Journal of Housing and Community Development, 28 March. Accessed 8 April 2019; Yakima Neighborhood Health Services. 2017. “2016 Annual Report.” Accessed 25 April 2019; U.S. Census Bureau. 2019. “Quarterly Residential Vacancies and Homeownership, First Quarter 2019.” Accessed 25 April 2019.

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Source:

Interview with Lowel Krueger, executive director, Yakima Housing Authority, 18 March 2019; Ashanti Wright. 2019. “Award of Excellence: Cosecha Court,” Journal of Housing and Community Development, 28 March. Accessed 8 April 2019.

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Source:

Interview with Lowel Krueger, executive director, Yakima Housing Authority, 18 March 2019; Ashanti Wright. 2019. “Award of Excellence: Cosecha Court,” Journal of Housing and Community Development, 28 March. Accessed 8 April 2019.

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