CASHMERE, Wash. — The farm labor association WAFLA plans to build farmworker housing in Cashmere while continuing projects in Okanogan and Chelan.
Pear growers in the Wenatchee Valley, from Wenatchee through Cashmere to Leavenworth, increasingly struggle with too few domestic workers to tend and harvest crops. They have been turning to WAFLA to help them hire H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers and would do more of that if they had more farmworker housing that the federal H-2A program requires they provide.
“A lot of small growers around Dryden and in the valley need housing. Brender Creek is full,” said Dan Fazio, WAFLA’s director in Olympia.
Brender Creek is a $6 million, 200-bed migrant farmworker housing facility in Cashmere constructed with state and private funding and opened by the Washington Growers League in May 2015. The League also operates the 270-bed Sage Bluff facility near Malaga, south of Wenatchee, that it built in 2010.
The League reserves about 10 percent of the beds at both facilities each season for walk-in individual workers who pay $8 per night to stay. The rest is full most of the time.
The state and Chelan County are working to extend state funding and county operation of the 380-bed migrant farmworker camp in Monitor, just west of Wenatchee, through 2019, said Cathy Mulhall, county administrator.
Preliminary planning calls for groups of growers to own a 150- to 200-bed facility at Cashmere that would be developed by WAFLA with private money and managed by WAFLA.
State grants — used at Brender Creek, Sage Bluff and by the League for a project in Mattawa and WAFLA for projects in Chelan and Okanogan — are restricted to H-2A and domestic migrant seasonal workers only, Fazio said.
The Cashmere property owners prefer private funding because it allows them more options such as housing local and year-round workers, he said.
The plan is to remove orchard to make room for the housing after the 2018 harvest and have it ready for use in 2019, Fazio said.
Meanwhile, WAFLA is open to more privately funded projects of 150 to 250 beds each in the next several years and is proceeding with plans in Okanogan and Chelan, Fazio said.
WAFLA was awarded a $3 million state Department of Commerce grant last December to build 166 beds of seasonal farmworker housing in the city of Okanogan. WAFLA planned to kick in $750,000, break ground in May or June and be ready for occupancy in spring of 2018.
The project has been delayed by zoning changes taking longer than expected. Now the hope is to be open for the apple and pear harvest next year but maybe not for cherries, Fazio said.
WAFLA and others will shoulder costs of just under $4 million, he said.
The site is 20 acres along the Okanogan River in the north end of town. Zoning allows a second phase of 106 beds for a total of 272 beds.
In Chelan, WAFLA plans to build an 180-bed facility near Chelan Fruit Cooperative’s new packing plant No. 1. Grower groups have donated close to $500,000 in land and other services for that project and WAFLA has applied for a $3 million Commerce grant, Fazio said. The grant could be awarded this December but is in doubt because the Legislature has not passed a capital budget, he said. The plan is for construction in 2018 for a spring 2019 opening, he said.
The Growers League has a $3 million grant application pending for 192 beds for the $5.3 million Phase 3 of its Mattawa housing.
Construction on the first two housing units of the 190-bed Phase 1 just began a couple of weeks ago, a year behind the original schedule do to utility issues with the city of Mattawa, said Cody Chrismer, League housing program manager. Phase 2 is another 190 beds, and eventually the League hopes to have more phases for a total of 2,000 beds, Chrismer said.
Even if Congress changes or replaces the H-2A program, farmworker housing will be needed, Fazio said. It’s difficult for the private sector to invest in housing when occupancy is seasonal, he said.