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Farmworker housing tax credit in doubt

Lobbyists say state policy benefits workers, farmers


Capital Press

SALEM -- Among the state tax credits set to expire in 2014 is a farmworker housing credit that supporters say is vital in helping farmers and farmworker housing organizations provide workers safe, affordable housing.

Karen Tolvstad, a Oregon Housing and Community Services administrator, said studies show approximately 100,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers are in Oregon each year. Of that number, the agency estimates 9 percent reside in dedicated affordable housing, including in-community and labor-camp housing.

About 1,264 units have been created with the tax credit, Tolvstad said. Many of the units house multiple workers and their families.

Testifying before an interim legislative committee Nov. 20, Tolvstad said affordable housing has become a vital ingredient in helping farmers attract workers to the state.

In addition to attracting workers, the credits create a leverage that helps nonprofits attract federal dollars, said Peter Hainley, executive director of Community and Shelter Assistance Corp., or CASA, of Oregon.

"We can't compete when we go to the federal government asking for money if we don't have existing leverage," Hainley said. "We use this (tax credit) as our leverage."

Agricultural lobbyist John McCulley said the credit has been an incentive for tree fruit growers and others to build and upgrade their on-farm housing. Without it, he said, farmers will be hesitant to assume the liability associated with on-farm housing.

Also, Tolvstad said, new federal farmworker housing minimum standards for square footage are coming in 2018, increasing the credit's importance.

Farmworker advocates are expected to bring a bill before the 2013 Legislature extending the credit beyond its 2014 expiration.

Advocates supported a similar bill in 2011, but it stalled in a revenue committee and failed to receive a floor vote.

The 2013 Legislature will meet for three days beginning Jan. 14 to assign lawmakers to committees and conduct other organizational activities. The session kicks off Feb. 4.


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