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FoodWise Action Alert: Expand Options for Farm and Farmworker Housing in WA!

A bill just passed in the WA Senate legalizing “Tiny Houses” and “Tiny House Communities.” It was introduced by Republican State Senator Hans Zeiger, 25th District (Puyallup).

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We can make it a better bill if we expand it to include temporary and permanent farmworker housing.

Here’s the bill’s tiny house definition:

“Tiny house” and “tiny house with wheels” means a dwelling to be used as permanent housing with permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation built in accordance with the 2018 International Resident Code Appendix Q.

Appendix Q relaxes various requirements in the body of the code as they apply to houses that are 400 square feet in area or less. Attention is specifically paid to features such as compact stairs, including stair handrails and headroom, ladders, reduced ceiling heights in /offs and guard and emergency escape and rescue opening requirements at lofts.

A lot of real-estate and planning jargon has been added to the bill since it was first introduced which I get pretty lost in. Generally I think I favor the concept of having legal provisions that can assist folks in downsizing their lifestyles while making housing more accessible to those of minimal means. That said, I think all housing should be sited in such a way that it doesn’t spoil natural resources or convert arable land.

But my interest in this really stems from my firm belief that one path towards a future where we have a re-localized food system is to make provisions for working farms to be able to provide adequate housing, seasonal or year-round, for the people who are directly involved in farming and their families.

Currently, Washington has a program that’s administered by the State Department of Health for temporary/seasonal farmworker housing. The Health Dept. can issue building permits that supersede county zoning rules (except setback, bldg. height and road access). In other words, temporary farmworker housing can be built in excess of, say, the one dwelling per 10-acre ag-zoned property limitation which is in place for much of the zoned agricultural lands in Spokane County. There are a lot of regulations that a farm must adhere to when it opts to build housing under this program. Those regulations are there primarily to protect health and safety of the farmworker residents of the seasonal housing. I would like to see an educational program put together by someone (Tilth? Health Dept?) to assist small-scale farmers in understanding the temporary housing program better and assisting in implementing it for farms that desire to go that route. Note that my understanding is that temporary housing means housing that’s lived in for no more than 9 consecutive months.

Office of Rural & Farmworker Housing

In light of the fact that food system relocalization is a priority for combating climate change as well as for improving food security, public health and the regional economy, as well as the fact that many families with a history of seasonal farmwork have attained the financial ability to purchase their own farms, I also suggest adjusting the current concept of farmworker housing to include permanent farmworker housing and using the Tiny House Bill as a vehicle to codify such a modification. For example, a ten-acre working farm with one main dwelling and several small dwellings where farmworkers (could be partners, employees, a co-op or collective, non-profit, etc.) live and farm year-round has, in some cases, much greater chance of being economically viable than without the extra live-in labor. It’s going to be a long time before small-scale local food production for local consumption pays well enough for most farmworkers to be able to afford off-site housing and the expenses of commuting to work on a farm. Plus, who’s going to be on-site when the sprinklers need to go on at 3am to avoid frost damage or the nanny goat needs assistance kidding or to pull snow off the hoophouse?

I wonder if the tiny house bills could be amended, in committee or on the floor this session. Or could we organize a push to modify them next year to make provisions for permanent farmworker housing blending the concepts in the Health Dept. program and the Tiny House bill, if it passes.

How about having the Tiny House bill also amend certain sections of the Temporary Worker Housing Law, Chapter 70.114A RCW as indicated in the PDF linked to below. Note: While the law we would seek to amend has the word “temporary” in its title, its preamble reads “The legislature finds that there is an inadequate supply of temporary and *permanent* [emphasis mine] housing for migrant and seasonal workers in this state. The legislature also finds that unclear, complex regulations related to the development, construction, and permitting of worker housing inhibit the development of this much needed housing."

If you like the ideas expressed here, contact your Washington state legislators and let them know. Find Your Legislators:

Thank You!!

The Inland FoodWise Newsletter is edited and published by Chrys Ostrander as a free service to the people of the Inland Northwest regional foodshed.
It is distributed electronically by the Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild Newsletter Service.
Chrys Ostrander
Caretaker @ Heartsong
7034-C Hwy. 291
Tumtum, WA 99034
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