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Policy Watch:
The Sorry State of Farmworker Housing in North Carolina


Migrant and seasonal farmworkers provide the backbone of North Carolina's agricultural labor force. Because farmworkers often leave their homes to work in remote rural areas, they frequently receive housing as part of their employment. Too often, this housing is unsanitary, unhealthy and dangerous. Wake Forest University School of Medicine has found that 40% of farmwoker families live in overcrowded housing.

Adequate laundry facilities are crucial for farm workers to remove toxic pesticide residues from work clothes. The current Migrant Housing Act standard is just one washtub per 30 workers. Photo: National Farmworker Ministry
Farmworkers also are at increased risk of such illnesses as lead poisoning, parasitic diseases, and gastrointestinal infections, as well as toxic burns resulting from exposure to pesticides.

Farmworker advocates are concerned about common housing problems that include overcrowding, structural problems, poor sanitation, proximity to pesticides, inadequate showers and laundry facilities, lack of access to telephones in case of emergency, and lack of inspection and enforcement.

In 2007, the NC General Assembly passed a "compromise" bill (S 1466) that will improved some of the housing problems, but left most of the current housing standards unchanged. One of its primary features is to require that operators provide a sanitary mattress - not just an empty bed frame - to workers.  The NC Housing Finance Agency is currently researching how to help growers finance better housing for workers.

The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) reports that "farmworkers are among the worst-housed groups in the United States." Of the housing inspected during a HAC survey of farmworker housing on the East Coast, researchers found 38 percent severely inadequate or unfit for human habitation.

 

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