By Kiet Do

SAN GREGORIO (KPIX 5) — Officials on Tuesday announced some relief on the horizon for farm workers in San Mateo County with the completion of new low-cost housing designated for laborers.

The project could halt the staggering loss of workers to high rents and long commutes.

Blue house farm in San Gregorio is the first in a pilot program by San Mateo County to build below-market farm labor housing.

Blue house farm grows organic pumpkins, strawberries and brussel sprouts.

The manufactured homes were purchased with sales tax revenue from Measure K.

As part of the deal, the county bought two units and installed utilities. Blue house farm bought the other two for about $60,000 apiece.

Owner Ryan Casey said he began seeing signs of the housing crisis hitting the agriculture industry years ago, when workers got tired of commuting an hour each way and quit.

Yearly turnover was at 30 to 40 percent.

I have been seeing more and more turnover with my employees, because they’re losing their housing or moving into other professions that are able to pay a little bit more, said Casey.

There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small dining room and a kitchen tucked inside each 1,000 square foot pre-fabricated unit located right in the heart of the farm.

Workers make between $12 to $18 dollars an hour, but will only pay about 10 percent of their monthly salary towards rent.

Casey sees the four brand new homes as a powerful recruiting tool for dependable labor.

And without labor, all of our farms fall apart, explained Casey.

Employers all over the Bay Area are helping out with housing to help keep workers. Christopher’s Ranch in Gilroy provides a stipend to workers. A restaurant owner in Palo Alto bought a home to rent out to employees.

The VTA in Santa Clara County allows their workers to stau in an RV on the grounds. And Atherton police are building a brand new crash pad so officers can get rest after long shifts.

We know that some of the properties out here were slated to become golf courses, said San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley. We didn’t want that. we didn’t want them turning into mini estates.

Horsley says affordable housing helps to keep the farms profitable and out of the hands of private developers.

For anyone who likes fresh, local organic produce, the area farms need to have a labor force to exist.

Places like Blue House Farm have to survive, said Horsley. And the only way to survive is for them to have good labor. And to have labor you have to have good decent housing for them and their families.

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