Bipartisan Bill Would Improve Farm Worker Housing, Stabilize Costs for Oregon Farmers

Robin Maxey
Office of the Senate President
Mon, 03/27/2017 - 3:40pm

(SALEM) – Bipartisan legislation aimed at improving and increasing housing for farm workers in Oregon cleared its first key hurdle Tuesday when the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue approved Senate Bill 1 for consideration by the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

The measure creates a personal income or corporation tax credit for the operating costs of housing for agricultural workers. It is sponsored jointly by Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem/Gervais/Woodburn) and Senator Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River).

Current state law provides incentive for farmers to build farm worker housing but not for maintenance and operations. Farmers say maintaining and operating housing can be expensive and the costs work as a deterrent to building additional housing. In addition to not charging rent to their workers, farmers cover other expenses like utilities and upkeep.

“Farmers are limited in how they can recoup their costs,” said Thomsen, owner of Thomsen Orchards in Hood River. “We’re subject to supply and demand in a global market. Not only do hot summers and cold winters affect our crops, they affect the maintenance and operations costs to house our employees. This tax credit will help stabilize the cost of worker housing.”

The concept grew out of discussion between the two senators when Courtney visited Thomsen Orchards in June.

“Housing is an essential need and not just in our urban areas,” Courtney said. “Without safe and affordable farmworker housing, our communities suffer. Families don’t have a safe place to sleep, children miss school, farmers lose workers, crops go unharvested.”

The bill has a broad coalition of supporters that includes PCUN farm workers’ union, 1000 Friends of Oregon, the Farm Bureau, Columbia Gorge Fruit Farmers Association, Agricultural Workforce Housing Coalition, the Housing Alliance, the Oregon Opportunity Network and Community And Shelter Assistance Corporation.

Those supporters say agricultural workers will benefit by having safe, decent and affordable housing, while employers will benefit by having a stably-housed workforce.

Senate Bill 1 now moves to the Joint Ways and Means Committee where it will be considered later in the session.