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Seasonal farmworker housing goes up in Central Washington

At least a year behind its original schedule, Washington Grower League seasonal farmworker housing is under construction in Mattawa and is to open in April.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on January 5, 2018 9:11AM

First phase of Washington Growers League’s Mattawa Slope Seasonal Farmworker Housing, Mattawa, Wash., on Dec. 3, 2017. The 144-bed facility is scheduled for occupancy in April.

Dan Wheat/Capital Press

First phase of Washington Growers League’s Mattawa Slope Seasonal Farmworker Housing, Mattawa, Wash., on Dec. 3, 2017. The 144-bed facility is scheduled for occupancy in April.

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MATTAWA, Wash. — The long anticipated seasonal farmworker housing the Washington Growers League is building at Mattawa is scheduled to open April 18.

Site development of the 144-bed, $4.5 million Phase One of the League’s Mattawa Slope Seasonal Farmworker Housing began last summer and construction began in September.

“We hope we will stay on schedule or ahead, which is where we are now,” said Mike Gempler, the League’s executive director in Yakima.

He has been frustrated at times as the project slid one year behind its original schedule, primarily due to logistical and cost issues with the city of Mattawa regarding water and sewer service. The city of about 4,400 is near the Columbia River about 38 miles east of Yakima in Central Washington.

Thirty-six beds will be reserved for walk-in guests and the remaining 108 are being booked now by growers for workers, he said. The cost is $10 per worker per night.

The first phase has three housing buildings totaling 18,720 square feet, plus an office building with a manager’s apartment.

A 192-bed, $4.5 million Phase Two will start this spring to be ready for 2019 and a 192-bed, $5.3 million Phase Three is to open in 2020. The League has $3 million in state grant-loans for each of the first two phases and anticipates another $3 million for the third phase. That makes $9 million in low-interest state loans that become grants if not paid off in a certain length of time. The remaining $5 million is private loans. Gempler said all debt service is supported by bed rents and leases over 30 years.

The complex is on 5 acres west of the intersection of State Route 243 and Road 24 Southwest, a couple miles west of downtown Mattawa. The League has right of first refusal to buy an adjoining 5 acres for more housing and may eventually bring the total to 1,200 beds, Gempler said. The second 5 acres is in the conceptual phase, he said.

The housing is for individual, seasonal farmworkers and for limited duration, not year-round. Workers cannot earn more than 50 percent of the average median income in Grant County. It was $48,714 in 2015, with half being $24,357.

Central Washington tree fruit companies have been building a lot of housing for H-2A-visa guestworkers. Federal law requires them to provide housing but not own it. A new proposed H-2C-visa program, HR 4092, does not require employers to provide housing.

But even if that passes, housing will be needed, Gempler said.

“The domestic workforce is in deterioration. Guestworkers will be coming and they will need places to stay,” he said.

The need for housing is acute and growing and the only thing that could change that would be a collapse of the industry or an amazing breakthrough and proliferation of affordable harvest machinery, Gempler said, adding that the prospects of either are very low.

The League represents growers on labor issues. It operates the 270-bed Sage Bluff Seasonal Farmworker Housing near Malaga, south of Wenatchee, that it built in 2010. It also operates the 200-bed, $6 million Brender Creek Seasonal Farmworker Housing at Cashmere that opened in 2015.



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