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Housing Shortage Impacts Boise Farmers as Aid Goes Unused

Idaho employs an average of 53,000 farmers annually, but the state only has 274 homes subsidized by the federal government for farmworkers. The state is looking for ways to build more farmworker housing.

The Caldwell Housing Authority provides housing for low- income and migrant farmworkers. Rudy Soto hopes to encourage local developers and nonprofits to build more housing like it.
(Sarah A. Miller/TNS)
(TNS) — Idaho farmers employ an average number of 53,000 workers annually, according to the University of Idaho. But Idaho has only 274 homes subsidized by the federal government for farmworkers.

That means workers, who make an average of $15 an hour, are mostly required to look for housing on the open market, which in the Boise area is tight and expensive.

Farmworkers may face homelessness if the housing shortage continues, for now farmworker activists say workers are getting food from food banks and cutting down on their spending.

“There are many many people living under one roof,” said Rudy Soto, the Idaho state director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in an interview with the Idaho Statesman. “And that is definitely a problem that’s very prevalent.”

The Housing Assistance Council, a nationwide nonprofit organization that supports affordable housing efforts in rural America, estimates that at least one-third of farmworkers live in crowded conditions.

Soto, a Treasure Valley native, grew up in a public housing complex for farmworkers and had many relatives who lived in Farmway Village, a Caldwell Housing Authority-run housing complex for low income residents and farmworkers. Soto’s father was a farmworker in the Nampa area, so he knows firsthand the struggles that workers face.

In his government role, his eyes were opened to the federal programs available to housing providers and the lack of use of these resources in Idaho.

“We are not bringing enough of the federal resources to Idaho that we could and should as the third-largest agricultural producer in the West and as the fastest-growing state in the country,” Soto said. “To overcome the labor shortages, we need to make sure that people have housing that they can afford.”

On Monday, Soto hosted a roundtable discussion, believed to be the first of its kind, with Treasure Valley housing and farmworker advocates and officials from USDA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The topic? How to build more farmworker and workforce housing.

Federal Grants, Loans Available to Build Housing

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Multifamily Housing offers the Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing program, which provides grants and loans to buy, build and repair housing for farm workers. Housing for domestic farmworkers is eligible for USDA funds, not housing for migrant workers who are on H-2A visas.

Joaquin Altoro, the Department of Agriculture’s rural housing service administrator , told the roundtable at Nampa’s Hispanic Cultural Center that Idaho has little farmworker housing supported by the USDA program.

“We need to do something about that, because we have resources specifically for farmworker housing,” Altoro said.

The USDA subsidizes more than 400,000 homes nationwide for farmworkers and rural areas. Some of those units are funded through the farm labor housing program, and others through three additional funding programs the department runs for rural housing projects. Among them are 156 properties subsidized under the USDA’s multifamily housing program.

Developers and nonprofits can apply for grants. The multifamily housing program offers direct loans for farm labor housing and for workforce housing in rural areas. If granted a USDA loan, 100 percent of it would go toward the construction of a new housing development, or to repairs and preservation of existing affordable housing, said Dan Rogers, USDA multifamily housing director, during the roundtable.

Altoro encouraged developers and nonprofits /to apply. Visit the USDA Office of Multifamily Housing at

“If we make those investments in housing today, and (housing is) affordable, we will have ourselves very successful folks like our Rudy, who has grown up in this community and who is passionate about this community, and fights for resources for that community,” Altoro said. “This is why I say we want to raise more Rudys.”

©2023 The Idaho Statesman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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