Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing Programs
Background and Funding Overview
Farmworker Housing Need
There are approximately 3 million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States. Farmworkers are the worst-housed of all rural people. According to the Economic Research Service, housing conditions for migrant and seasonal farmworkers have long been substandard and there has not been any improvement in recent years. Farmworkers are also among the poorest of rural people. Sixty one percent of farmworkers earn incomes below the poverty line, and consequently three out of every five farmworker families live below the federal poverty line which is almost six times the national rate.
USDA Farm Labor Housing
The only federal program targeted to the housing needs of migrant and seasonal farmworkers is the section 514/516 loan and grant program administered by the Department of Agriculture and the Rural Housing Service. Over the history of this program, USDA has financed some 37,000 units for a cost of $1.27 billion.
Over the last several years, USDA has financed an average of 600 units per year. The amount is a far distance from addressing the need. For example, Texas has some 360,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and only about 1,300 units of farm labor housing. One project in California has a waiting list exceeding 800 families.
In the face of declining appropriations, farmworker housing organizations have made substantial progress in raising capital from other sources. According to the Housing Assistance Council, over the past several years RHS provided financing totaling $230 million in loans and grants for farm labor housing. During that same time period, farmworker housing sponsors and developers leveraged an additional $265 million, thereby more than matching the federal funds.
In recent years, due to reduced funding, some states have come forward with their own programs to finance farm labor housing; among them are Florida, Washington State, and California.