Seven houses under construction on a southwest Idaho hop farm are designed specifically for federal H-2A guestworkers.
Nine more of the 16-person houses are planned in the next few years on the farm, which the Obendorf family has operated for generations between Wilder and Parma.
Tight housing and labor markets are among the factors that motivated the family to hire guestworkers. Under the H-2A program, farmers are required to provide housing.
“We think farmworker housing is on the cusp out here,” said T.J. Bowles, new-home adviser with builder Simplicity by Hayden Homes.
Redmond, Ore.-based Hayden is a high-volume homebuilder. Simplicity builds on land the farmer already owns. Its sizable worker-housing segment produces site-built, wood-framed homes meeting federal H-2A and Department of Housing and Urban Development standards.
The H-2A program allows qualified employers or agents to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Housing the employer provides or secures must meet federal standards.
“Simplicity sees strong and growing demand in the Northwest in the past three years,” said Bowles, who is based in the Boise area.
The company has been busy in central and eastern Washington — working with tree fruit growers, among others — and in Oregon and Idaho, he said. More hops acreage is a factor lately.
Brock Obendorf, who runs the hop farm where the home construction is underway, has housed H-2A workers in units operated by two local housing authorities. He sees advantages in building and owning housing for his crews, which are growing.
“Housing is hard to find for H-2A,” he said. “In return, we are not going to have to pay rent, so we save costs there.”
The houses are of high quality and on the farm, which will make transportation and logistics easier, Obendorf said.
He said the operation has about 125 H-2A workers system-wide, and brings in 100 more for harvest.
“We are planning to add to that worker total,” Obendorf said. Over the next few years, “we will add houses every year.”
He envisions 16 houses on-site eventually, bringing to 256 workers. Long-term plans also call for a soccer field and community meeting area.
“The farmers are facing the same real estate market everybody else is, so housing, at least from what I am hearing from employers, has been a challenge in the (Treasure) Valley,” said Neils Tidwell, a state Department of Labor workforce consultant who does H-2A inspections in Canyon County and part of Owyhee County to the south. “My impression is that there would be additional H-2A workers if more housing were available.”
Bowles said some of the recent demand Simplicity sees reflects that owners want to plan for their future housing needs while controlling costs and limiting exposure to housing market fluctuations.