Progress report for ONE22-414
This project seeks to develop an informed working group of farmers and farmworkers that is prepared to take action on developing housing solutions. Our goals include:
- Convening an active working group of 12-15 farmers and farmworkers to offer feedback and advising on potential housing solutions.
- Disseminating a survey of farmer housing needs.
- Documenting housing needs of the working group members as written case studies for consultants and support professionals to reference.
- Developing a support network of consultants and service providers to assist the farmer working group in pursuing housing options.
- Developing and hosting a 10-session digital community learning series on the subjects of affordable, farmworker, and cooperative housing, attended by the working group and up to 50 additional participants.
- Documenting farmer and farmworker feedback on the types of housing solutions and information presented in the learning series, yielding critical data for next steps.
- Hosting an in-person convening of the working group, service providers and supporters to develop next steps as our project concludes.
- Compiling publicly available research and findings, including (a) the curriculum and digital recordings of the learning sessions, (b) summary of farmer feedback, and (c) a resource list on affordable, farmworker, and cooperative housing information and related organizations.
Farmers and farm workers face extraordinary challenges in accessing affordable housing in the Hudson Valley’s inflated and competitive real estate market. While home prices have been an increasing problem for the last decade in this region, recent Covid-related migration from urban centers has brought a major spike in rent prices, while significantly limiting the amount of available housing. Deemed a “housing crisis,” this issue is well documented by local news sources and is an active conversation in state government.*
The Hudson Valley is home to a rich community of small sustainable farms, largely producers of vegetables, livestock, and specialty products, and many of them first-generation farmers in their first ten years of operation. This community is linked together by social ties and by common services, such as a regional CSA Coalition with 120+ member farms, a cooperative purchasing effort that sources supplies for 63 produce farms, and a well-used listserv run by the Hudson Valley Young Farmers Coalition with more than a thousand members. This well-developed, collaborative community has extraordinary capacity and value - but needs immediate solutions for farmer housing in order to continue.
Responding to increasing housing stress among her colleagues, project collaborator and farmer Leslie Lewis collected interviews and stories with farmers in the Hudson Valley in winter of 2021. The results are moving stories that demonstrate the farmer experience of the broader housing crisis:
“I signed the lease on my current apartment the day after it was listed and it already had six other applicants, which demonstrates how competitive the housing market is. I signed this lease despite the cost of rent being 45% of my income (by definition an individual is housing insecure if 30-50% of income goes to housing costs), with the hopes that by the time the lease was up I would have found something I could afford. I was unable to find another rental to even match my current rent; I actively searched for over three months. I have an agricultural degree. I have served my country for two years in the Peace Corps. I have three years of experience in my field. I have a full time managerial position in my field. And I struggle to afford my rent. “
On top of wider barriers of unaffordability and lack of options, farm workers face special challenges in applying for housing. Low wages, seasonal work terms, informal work commitments, and frequent job changes or moves are all common experiences of working on farms in this region, yet raise red flags for landlords concerned with reducing their risk:
“We don’t make enough money to look good on an application. I’ve been rejected from two places in the past month.”
“This isn’t an uncommon story. At most farms I’ve worked, the hiring process feels casual and contracts and offer letters are often not official. How am I supposed to apply for housing with that? I can’t.”
“It looks bad on housing applications when it says I’ve moved at least twice a year because any job in farming is seasonal so I have a season summer job then a winter job every year. I don’t know how to get out of this cycle and save money and have an application that looks appealing.”
The financial toll is high on farmworkers, and the farm managers responsible for providing their wages. Beyond that, there is a serious emotional toll on workers in an otherwise challenging industry already known for burnout and personal sacrifice.
“It shouldn’t be so hard and so inaccessible and I’m so tired. I haven’t lived in the same space for more than 5 months in 4 years. This year alone, since January 2021 to now, I’ve lived in 4 places. It’s exhausting.”
The result is that in real time, farmers and farmworkers are leaving the region -- or giving up on agriculture altogether.
“We are beginning to worry we may not be able to afford to stay in the Hudson Valley.”
“Truthfully I do not foresee myself remaining in the Hudson Valley for more than one more year. Long-term I will move somewhere more affordable.”
“I have continued to face housing crises though my farming career that basically ended in me giving up on agriculture.”
Our project premise is that members of our robust farming community are capable of pursuing long-term, community-controlled solutions to farmer housing, but need critical support to do so. We intend to support development of an informed working group of farmers, and link them with a network of housing professionals and consultants to take further steps. We will also lead initial organizing efforts - including clarifying housing needs, assessing farmer and farmworker preferences for different types of housing solutions, and hosting a convening on next steps for farmer housing as our project nears completion.
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- - Technical Advisor (Educator)
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- - Technical Advisor
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- - Producer
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Our project is on track with its goals and timeline. Our work to date includes:
1) Convening an active working group of 12 farmers and farmworkers to offer feedback and advising on potential housing solutions.
Our working group includes 7 farm owners, 1 farm manager, 5 farm workers, and 3 service providers or non-profit partners, including Glynwood, Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, and Columbia County Sanctuary Movement. After conducting one-on-one calls with each group member to gather project feedback, the group met for its initial meeting in December. Group members have weighed in on project goals and outcomes, documented their own housing circumstances and needs in the Housing Needs Survey, and assisted with survey outreach through personal reach-outs.
2) Disseminating a survey of farmer housing needs.
Working with our project advisors, we drafted, peer-reviewed, and disseminated a 65-question survey on housing preferences and needs. The survey has separate tracks for farm owners/managers and farm workers and collects critical data on many aspects of the issue, including income and affordability, needs and preferences for different types of housing, and support desired. We exceeded our response goal, with 78 responses by year's end. Results of the survey will be published with our final report.
3) Document housing needs of the working group members as written case studies for consultants and support professionals to reference.
Case studies will take place in February - March 2023.
4) Develop a support network of consultants and service providers to assist the farmer working group in pursuing housing options.
Extensive reach outs and interviews, by Faith, Leslie, and members of the working group, have yielded over 40 new connections along with critical information to support the learning series and other goals. A resources list will be published along with our final report. In summary, our network includes:
- Affordable housing organizations (RUPCO, Hudson River Housing, Habitat for Humanity, Pattern for Progress)
- Regulators and technical assistance programs of farm worker housing (NY Homes and Community Renewal, Cornell Workforce Development, NY Ag&Markets)
- Farm worker housing lenders (Farm Credit East, USDA Rural Development)
- Cooperative housing organizations (Cooperative Development Institute)
- Development consultants including architects and land use attorneys (Dennis Wedlick, Troy Architectural Partners, Cuddy Feder)
- State and county officials and political organizations (State Senator Michelle Hinchey, the National Young Farmers Coalition, Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corp.)
- And a large number of community organizations, agricultural non-profits, and community leaders that are invested in this issue and voiced their support of a future initiative.
5) Develop and host a 10-session digital community learning series on the subjects of affordable, farm worker, and cooperative housing, attended by the working group and up to 50 additional participants.
Progress is underway in developing our online community learning series. With a small revision from the original plan, this series will take place in February and will hold four two-hour sessions. The content is based on research done by the lead organizers and working group members, and will include presentations by project advisors and consultants.
6) Document farmer and farm worker feedback on the types of housing solutions and information presented in the learning series, yielding critical data for next steps.
This will take place during the online learning series in February.
7) Hosting an in-person convening of the working group, service providers and supporters to develop next steps as our project concludes.
Planning for this event is underway, with Megan Larmer, our event partner at Glynwood.
Research results at this stage are preliminary only, as the bulk of our goals will happen in 2023. We expect to emerge from this project with documented need for housing, a set of information on farmer preferences, a wealth of new connections, and a strategic plan for launching new initiatives. The bulk of this activity will happen between January and April 2023.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
This project will create and share publicly available research and findings, including (a) the curriculum and digital recordings of the learning sessions, (b) a summary of farmer feedback and survey results, and (c) a resource list on affordable, farm worker, and cooperative housing information and related organizations.
The project team will develop a simple project website for the Farmer Housing Working Group, and will host information about our efforts alongside the session recordings, survey results, and resource list. Our goal is to receive 500 views of our website materials.
In addition, project team member Faith Gilbert will lead a webinar for attendees outside the region to share the project results, seeking 75 participants representing a mix of farmers and service providers. Our project collaborators, along with Cornell Cooperative Extension, will join in promoting the webinar in order to reach our participation goal.