Largest Farmworker Complex In State Opens In Yakima As Concerns Of Housing Shortages Echo

The FairBridge Hotel in Yakima, Wash., is the site of the largest farmworker housing complex in the state.
The FairBridge Hotel in Yakima, Wash., is the site of the largest farmworker housing complex in the state.

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Yakima will soon be home to the largest farmworker housing complex in Washington. The revamped FairBridge hotel officially opened Friday, June 1, and the first guest workers will be housed there beginning June 11th.

The hotel is opening its doors to hundreds of H-2A workers this month, with room for 800 beds. H2-A workers are temporary, agricultural workers who typically work in the U.S for 10 months.

“It’s a great opportunity for us so we don’t have to build anymore housing,” fruit farmer Rob Valicoff says. “This will be where where we’re gonna house them now.”

Valicoff will be running the complex with Wafla, formerly known as the Washington Farm Labor Association, an HR firm that facilitates paperwork to get temporary labor to farms in Washington.  

The hotel is in the midst of renovations. The kitchen was remodeled and the rooms now have triple bunk beds and lockers for the temporary guest workers. Six will share one bathroom and a mini-fridge. That’s according to state and federal regulations.

Workers can’t cook in the rooms, but the FairBridge will offer three meals a day, and a basic convenience store and other amenities.They’ll also have laundry done in-house, a media room, banking services, and a swimming pool.

FairBridge Yakima bunk beds for farmworkers 6 per room

The average bedroom will house six workers. On site there will also be laundry, a media room, convenience store, and even a pool. CREDIT: ESMY JIMENEZ/NWPB

It’s sort of a college dorm but for seasonal workers.

Farmers pay for workers’ housing and food. They also provide transportation to and from the farm. The FairBridge will still be taking regular hotel reservations, but the breakdown is still being decided by stakeholders.

Cities like Yakima don’t typically house guest workers. They’re usually housed on the farms where they work. But that can be expensive for farmers. They have to develop valuable cropland into housing. That can also require drilling wells and getting the right permits. With this hotel, a lot of those costs are lowered.

But how did a hotel end up being the largest farmworker complex?

“The City of Yakima has never actually established a definition for motel and hotel use,” Yakima city council member Dulce Gutierrez says. “The absence of a regulation code is what has enabled for this motel to be converted to housing for H-2A workers.”

Gutierrez and others worry how this will affect housing. Like much of the state, Yakima is experiencing a housing shortage. Many of the farmworkers that already live in the city are largely pushed to Eastern Yakima where rents are cheaper. If farmers start buying out apartment complexes to house their temporary workers, the rent might go up for those who live there year-round.

Another concern is that guest workers aren’t covered under the Landlord-Tenant Act, meaning the city could be liable for any housing violations.

Yakima City Council will meet later this month to define hotel and motel usage.

Copyright 2018 Northwest Public Broadcasting

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