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Woodland, California: Affordable Housing for Agricultural Workers Builds Community Leaders

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Home >Case Studies >Woodland, California: Affordable Housing for Agricultural Workers Builds Community Leaders

Woodland, California: Affordable Housing for Agricultural Workers Builds Community Leaders


Woodland, California, the county seat of Yolo County, is a city of 60,000 residents located 20 miles from the state capital of Sacramento in the state’s heavily agricultural Central Valley. The county’s 6,000 agricultural workers have struggled to find quality affordable housing. To address this need, developer Mutual Housing California built Mutual Housing at Spring Lake, a 101-unit development constructed in 2 phases that opened in 2015 and 2019. Since its founding in 1988, Mutual Housing California has developed and managed affordable housing as the linchpin of its mission to empower farmworkers and their families to become community leaders. Spring Lake embodies this mission and prioritizes renewable energy and sustainable practices that benefit low-income residents. For its work toward achieving zero net energy use or better at Spring Lake, Mutual Housing California has twice received a Housing Innovation Award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Multifamily Affordable Housing at Spring Lake

With 62 units built in the first phase and 39 units in the second phase, Spring Lake provides 21 one-bedroom, 40 two-bedroom, 32 three-bedroom, and 8 four-bedroom units. Consisting of 100 affordable apartments and a manager’s unit, Spring Lake offers rents that are affordable to a range of income levels, with nearly 40 percent of the units reserved for households earning no more than 50 percent of the area median income (AMI). Other units are reserved for families with incomes capped at 60, 40, and 30 percent of AMI. Amenities and common features include public art by local artists, a children’s play area, community gardening areas, and fruit-bearing trees. The development is within walking distance of a neighborhood park, a school, and local retail.

Woodland’s affordable housing policies made Spring Lake possible. Density bonuses for affordable housing allowed Mutual Housing California to increase the number of units in Spring Lake. In addition, the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance permits market-rate developers to fulfill their affordable housing obligations by contributing to Woodland’s affordable housing fund, which helped support both phases of the Spring Lake development. In addition, the state’s Joe Serna, Jr. Farmworker Housing Grant program, which provides grants and deferred loans for affordable housing for agricultural workers, supported the development of the first phase (table 1). Similarly targeted funding for both phases came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Section 514 Off-Farm Labor Housing program. USDA, through the Rural Housing Service Section 521 rental assistance program, also provides vouchers to Spring Lake residents.

Table 1: Financing for Mutual Housing at Spring Lake

Phase 1

Citibank permanent loan$1,143,000
USDA Section 514 loan5,500,000
City of Woodland910,000
Low-income housing tax credit equity12,438,596
Affordable Housing Program610,000
Joe Serna, Jr. Farmworker Housing Grant1,000,000
Deferred developer fee206,000
Phase 1 total$21,807,596

Phase 2

Wells Fargo$668,000
USDA Section 514 loan3,000,000
City of Woodland1,500,000
Related Party land contribution550,000
Low-income housing tax credit equity9,306,158
Solar tax credit equity35,000
Phase 2 total$15,059,158
Grand total$36,866,754

Bringing Green Technology to Affordable Housing

Mutual Housing California recognizes a “green divide” that cuts off lower-income residents from the benefits of sustainable, energy-efficient development and safe building materials that wealthier households enjoy. Lower-income residents often pay more for energy than they would if access to new technology were equitable. In Mutual Housing California’s 2010 survey of agricultural workers, respondents’ biggest housing concerns were high rents and high utility costs. In central California, a typical renter can expect to spend between $94 and $227 on utilities per month. This expense can be significant for farmworkers, who earned an average of $20,500 annually in 2015.

The decision to incorporate energy-efficient appliances and rooftop solar panels, making the first phase of Spring Lake net zero energy and the second phase net positive energy, addresses workers' concerns. Specifically, Mutual Housing California used a superinsulated building envelope as the basis for energy efficiency. Refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers are ENERGY STAR® rated, and a color-coded meter in each unit enables residents to track their energy use in real time and indicates when use exceeds daily goals. Residents mindful of their electricity use can expect to pay less than $12 per month on electricity and, for much of the year, can expect to pay only the $5 monthly service fee. Water-saving features help Spring Lake residents consume 40 percent less water than residents of similar communities without these features. In addition, a greywater system offsets nearly 50 percent of landscape irrigation needs.

Inequitable exposure to environmental toxins has a profound effect on agricultural workers. To mitigate residents’ exposure to airborne toxins at work, Mutual Housing California implemented features in Spring Lake to ensure maximum indoor air quality. The developer used materials with low levels of volatile organic compounds, advanced mechanical ventilation, high-efficiency intake filters, and outdoor-venting kitchen and bathroom fans equipped with humidity sensors.

Ensuring that the development maximizes the potential of its green features has involved a learning curve for both Mutual Housing California and Spring Lake residents. For example, early marketing strategies emphasizing the project’s capacity to generate its own electricity left residents with a false impression of abundant free energy, according to Steven Root, communications coordinator for Mutual Housing California. This misunderstanding led to increased energy use that offset the benefits of green technology. Residential education campaigns helped correct the mistake, and a Green Leaders team emerged out of resident interest in teaching their neighbors about energy use and other activities, such as composting.

Empowering Individuals and Community

One of the primary objectives of Mutual Housing California is to offer programming and services that develop residents’ capacities for growth and civic leadership at all Mutual Housing California properties. A grant-funded program supported computer literacy training taught by students from a local university, with program graduates receiving a laptop upon program completion. Although the funding no longer supports free laptops for participants, the educational aspects of the program continue. Young residents are paired with role models for pursuing postsecondary education through the Culture of College program. College students and graduates with backgrounds similar to those of residents of Mutual Housing California properties, including Spring Lake, help many teens realize that college is an attainable goal, says Root. Resident lending circles help participants access credit to finance higher-cost necessities. Mutual Housing California also has partnered with local organizations such as the Yolo County Food Bank; a local credit union, which provides financial literacy training; and individuals and local businesses that donate holiday gifts and back-to-school supplies, including backpacks.

Mutual Housing California provides each of its properties with a discretionary fund that supports residents’ self-identified needs and promotes an ethic of civic participation. Resident leaders, with facilitation help from Mutual Housing California staff, work toward consensus on the needs of the community, making decisions about how best to allocate this funding. Community leaders from these “resident impact committees” at several Mutual Housing California properties meet every quarter to talk about larger issues such as housing affordability and the impact of global or national issues on their communities. The group also decides on actions they want to take, including advocacy at the state and local levels.

Mutual Housing at Spring Lake embodies the values that animate the work of Mutual Housing California, which believes in the “rights of migrant workers to decent housing in the community in which they have settled.” Beyond providing housing, the developer is building community capacity for full civic participation and advocacy. As an innovator in using green technology for the benefit of residents of affordable housing and as an active cultivator of civic leaders, Mutual Housing California is hoping that Spring Lake serves as a model for developers nationwide. In addition to the awards from the U.S. Department of Energy, Spring Lake received a World Habitat Award in 2017, given by international nonprofit World Habitat in conjunction with the United Nations’ UN-Habitat organization.



The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.