Farmworkers are essential to this country’s agriculture. They plant, cultivate, and harvest many of our nation’s most essential crops. Despite their impact on the economy, workers often find themselves isolated in labor camps with deplorable living conditions.
This was the case at Camphora in Soledad, California, where farm workers were living in sub-standard cinder-block buildings, originally meant as temporary housing for migrant workers in the 1960s.
Prior to redevelopment, the dirt road to the workers’ housing was cratered and cut off from the rest of the area by a highway and a state prison. The crumbling community center was boarded up and shut down. There was no grass, or play areas for the children living there.
“This community of farm workers was living in the shadows of the prison walls,” said Sebastian Glowacki, vice president of affordable housing at U.S. Bank subsidiary U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC). “This valley is one of the most profitable agricultural areas in the country, yet the people making this happen were invisible.”
According to a study released in 2014 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hispanics and Latinos accounted for 16.1 percent of the 146.3 million employed people in the United States. Among major industries, 27.3 percent of workers in construction were of Hispanic and Latino ethnicity, followed by 23.1 percent in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industry.
In 2014, Eden Housing, a California-based affordable housing developer, partnered with the City of Soledad and Monterey County to redevelop the land at Camphora with an investment from USBCDC. Eden Housing and USBCDC have worked together in more than 10 affordable housing projects.
“California may be known for high tech, but more than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown here, “says Linda Mandolini, president of Eden Housing. “Eden was proud to partner with USBCDC on Camphora Apartments, home to 44 farmworker families who work hard to put food on all of our tables every day, and who contribute so much to our state's economy.”
USBCDC’s investment helped to redevelop the site, replacing old housing with a 44-unit garden-style affordable housing complex. Today, the community has soccer fields, a basketball court, patio areas, and a community center with access to a computer lab, financial literacy education, employment training and referrals, a resident scholarship fund, and educational and cultural programs.
“Camphora is now far and away the nicest development in the area,” said Glowacki. “The farmworkers that live there are no longer invisible.”
Story by Marcherie Vázquez of U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation. Investing in affordable housing is part of Community Possible, the approach to corporate social responsibility at U.S. Bank.