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More Than a Year After Shooting, Half Moon Bay is Making Progress on Farmworker Housing

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Half Moon Bay Mayor Joaquin Jimenez (in vest) and housing coordinator Mike Noce visit a site on March 14, 2023, where the city plans to build 47 affordable homes for farmworkers with very low income. The project is due to break ground next month and will include units for rent and for purchase, Noce says. (Tyche Hendricks/KQED)

View the full episode transcript.

After last year’s mass shooting at two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, officials learned that some farmworkers had been living in shipping containers. State and local leaders promised to do something about it.

Now, the city is close to breaking ground on housing for the survivors and other low-wage farmworkers in the area.

Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I’m Erica Cruz Guevara, and welcome to the Bay. Local news to keep you rooted. Half Moon Bay is preparing to break ground on a really important housing project, one that took a mass shooting to start because after a shooting at two local farms about a year ago, officials learned that workers had been living in shipping containers, and now they’re doing something about it.

Joaquin Jimenez: With, the tragedy of a shooting that expedited, you know, for emergency housing, because we have the, the farm workers and everybody, everybody got to see how they live. So that expedited, you know, finding of, faster way to not double housing.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Today, how Half moon Bay is building new housing for farm workers.

Tyche Hendricks: I mean, you know, there’s an affordability crisis in the state and farmworkers are low wage workers. Suffice it to say, it’s an affordability crisis that hits farmworkers hard.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Tyche Hendricks is senior immigration editor for KQED.

Tyche Hendricks: San Mateo County, I think, is really an extreme situation. The median home price in San Mateo County is $1.9 million. It makes it the most expensive county in the state. Farming is a $100 million industry here. And of course, farming depends on farm workers.

Tyche Hendricks: There mostly minimum wage workers and mostly immigrants. They’re doing, you know, core essential work. But how to find a place to live that’s decent and affordable is tough. There was a study back in 2016 that estimated over a thousand units of farmworker housing are needed in San Mateo County.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I know this problem was really highlighted by the mass shooting in Half Moon Bay more than a year ago. Now at two mushroom farms, and the living conditions of farmworkers there really came to light. You met one of the farmworkers affected by this shooting. Can you tell me about Vincente? Who is he and what was life like for him before the shooting?

Tyche Hendricks: Vicente still works on the Mushroom Farm, California Terra Garden, where he was the day of the shooting. He’s been there for three years.

Vicente: [speaking spanish]

Tyche Hendricks: He’s a 52 year old man originally from Guatemala. He asked not to use his last name because his immigration status isn’t secure.

Vicente: [speaking spanish]

Tyche Hendricks: He says he lived in a small trailer on the mushroom farm with four people. There was no heat, no hot water, no place to cook. He says it was really crummy situation, but they suffered through it because they really didn’t have other housing options.

Vicente: [speaking spanish]

Tyche Hendricks: But the trauma was still really close to the surface for him. And that’s even though a local nonprofit did set up group therapy sessions for the people who survived the shootings on the two farms. But Vicente: said he still feels really deeply insecure. And it’s just this sort of this sense of anxiety that that’s very close to the surface.

Vicente: [speaking spanish]

Tyche Hendricks: He also said that just the instability of his housing situation really just adds to that.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Did Vicente have to move after the shooting happened? And the living conditions of the farmworkers at this particular farm sort of came to light?

Tyche Hendricks: Yeah, everybody had to move out of that farm. Public officials came through, including Governor Gavin Newsom, and, you know, drew attention, tweeted the photos out. Newsom did a big press conference and called out people living in shipping containers that drew scrutiny from county officials, and the two farms were red tagged. There were 38 people displaced from the two farms, and Vicente: is one of eight men who are living in a kind of a funky hotel room situation downtown in a guest house.

Vicente: [speaking spanish]

Tyche Hendricks: But there’s not room here for his wife and his little boy, his seven year old son. And so they moved to another town, a couple towns north on the coast. And we sent a ruling. Is that I mean, real priority for him is finding a stable home where the three of them can all live together.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: What have the city of Half Moon Bay and San Mateo County been doing in order to address this urgent need for more housing for farm workers?

Tyche Hendricks: There was a robust response, I would say, from local officials. The county Board of supervisors voted unanimously to spend $1 million to cover a year’s worth of rent for all of the displaced mushroom farm workers. That runs out this month, but the city of Half Moon Bay is stepping up, and they’ve also gotten commitments from a handful of community foundations.

Tyche Hendricks: And together, they’ve cobbled together another million dollars to cover a year or two of rent in temporary housing for the displaced farm workers. And they’re hoping that that’s going to carry them through until permanent housing is completed.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Right. Let’s talk about that permanent housing, because of course, these rooms that these folks are in have got to be a temporary situation. Folks like Vincent want to be with their families. What have these more permanent solutions looked like so far?

Tyche Hendricks: Well, Half Moon Bay officials are really excited and proud. I would say when I went down there that they’re going to be breaking ground next month on a project with 47 new homes that are geared specifically for low income farm workers, and with priority to the 19 families that were displaced from the mushroom farms, including Vincent De and his family.

Tyche Hendricks: And this stone pine cove is right on the edge of town. It’s just a 5 or 10 minute walk into downtown, and the land was donated by the city, and they have pulled together the $16 million budget they need, including money from the federal government, from the state government, from the county, and from some foundation money.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Coming up, we take you to the site of a new housing project for farmworkers. Stay with us.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I know you actually went there and met Half Moon Bay Mayor Joaquin Jimenez. Tell me a little bit about him and where you went.

Tyche Hendricks: I met Mayor Jimenez at the city council meeting, actually, where affordable housing was a topic. It’s a big priority for the mayor, who grew up in a farmworker family himself, and he knows about crowded housing.

Joaquin Jimenez: I don’t think we can walk. I can show her what the some of them are. You know, like a house with that.

Tyche Hendricks: So he walked me across town over to the site. There’s a little creek running past it. Ironically, the California Tara Garden mushroom Farm, one of the farms where the shooting took place, is just across a creek from from this site, which is 4 or 5 acres here. They’re purchasing manufactured homes that will be built in a factory and brought here on trucks.

Joaquin Jimenez: The fastest way to provide it housing right now is to use, you know, the, modular homes that prefabricated homes.

Tyche Hendricks: They’ll be little houses. They’re going to be, you know, sort of what we used to call mobile homes, but they’re not on wheels, you know, they’re they’re permanent homes, but they’re built in a factory not built at the construction site. So they’re going to be, I think, two and three bedroom houses that are meant for families. And the city will put in the water lines and sewer lines, electrical lines, and I guess, you know, foundations. And the mayor and his housing director were showing me there’s going to be a wildlife buffer along the creek. Trails are planned and a playground.

Joaquin Jimenez: So, you know, so that’s what that’s one of the things that we want to do, thinking about developing a site where, a community can walk everywhere, go shopping, go to the clinic. Go to school.

Tyche Hendricks: The city also got emergency building permits approved. And so this is a project that is going to move a lot more quickly than other things that they have in the pipeline. So they expect that the doors could open in less than a year like early 2025. They’re hoping that farmworkers can move in.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Wow. That’s pretty fast. It sounds like. And I mean, I have to imagine one project won’t be enough to fill the needs that you laid out earlier. Are there longer term projects in the works?

Tyche Hendricks: Absolutely. Yeah. The city is also donating land for an apartment building right in Half Moon Bay. That will be, they predict, a plan of 40 units geared towards older farm workers. There’s funding streams that will be for folks who are, I think like 50 plus. These were probably more smaller apartments, studios, one and two bedrooms. But this could take a good four years or maybe even more to get to completion.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And I know that even beyond housing, there are efforts to help farmworkers build wealth. And I know you spoke with Mayor Jimenez: about this.

Tyche Hendricks: You said building wealth, and it really is about building stability and a kind of a basis for upward mobility.

Joaquin Jimenez: Farmworkers are going to get to own, their mojo home.

Tyche Hendricks: So one piece of that is that some of the homes at this new development in Half Moon Bay called Stone Pine Cove, some of these houses will be available for home ownership for for farm workers to purchase with very affordable mortgages over 20 years or so.

Joaquin Jimenez: I think that would have been one of the my, my actually my parents, you know, dreams, you know, to be able to own.

Tyche Hendricks: And merge Jimenez himself with farmworker parents. They all immigrated from Mexico, and he and his siblings were able to get education and to build a future for themselves and their children. And he is very committed to making a path for other people, other farmworker families to do that.

Joaquin Jimenez: And I, my father, you know, who’s a very proud person, he talks about it and I in, he, he’s been asked questions throughout the years, you know, by friends or the families. How come he never invested, you know, in a house? And he said at the time it was difficult.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: How is it possible that they’re making these homes affordable to buy for farmworkers, considering San Mateo County is so expensive, as you mentioned earlier?

Tyche Hendricks: Well, I mean, I think it comes down to public investment, public subsidy. And I think there’s a recognition that on the open market, you know, housing is just totally out of reach for for somebody who earns a farmworker wage, and especially in a place like San Mateo, and that the the government is leaning into that and stepping up.

Tyche Hendricks: And there is actually a state grant program, the Joe Serna Farmworker Housing Grant program, that is really geared towards making rental housing and homeownership affordable for farmworkers. So, you know, there is state money going into this, and there’s federal money and there’s local money and private philanthropy from foundations.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Coming back to Vincent Tanguy, the farm worker who is still living in a guest house, separated from his family. How does he feel about everything that’s happening? Is he excited?

Tyche Hendricks: Yeah, I think it feels more like a knot, like a bird in the hand, but still more like a bird in the bush. For him, I think he has this hope and this yearning and desire. And he’s heard that the county, the city are working on building some permanent housing for farm workers and that he might be eligible for that.

Vicente: [speaking spanish]

Tyche Hendricks: But there’s been so much insecurity and so much disruption and upheaval in his life over the last, you know, year and a half that, you know, I’ll sort of believe it when he sees it. He is, you know, just really hoping to have a place that he and his wife and his son can call home, and that it can be a safe home and a permanent place that can feel stable and where his child can grow up.

Vicente: [speaking spanish]

Tyche Hendricks: Feeling safe and secure and, you know, decent living conditions. And he said, you know, we don’t need a fancy house. We don’t need a castelo for a luxurious home. We just need the basics. Just a simple, humble home. And one thing I would love, he said, is a playground, a park where my little boy could play.

Vicente: [speaking spanish]

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well Tyche, thank you so much as always.

Tyche Hendricks: It’s my pleasure, Ericka.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: That was Tyche Hendricks, senior immigration editor for KQED. This 26 minute conversation with Tyche was cut down and edited by senior editor Alan Montecillo. Maria Esquinca is our producer. She scored this episode and added all the tape music courtesy of the Audio Network and Audio Socket. The rest of our podcast team here at KQED includes Jen Chien, our director of podcasts, Katie Sprenger, our podcast operations manager, Cesar Saldana, our podcast engagement producer, Maha Sanad, our podcast engagement intern, and Ellie Prickett-Morgan, our production intern.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: The Bay is a production of listener supported KQED in San Francisco. You can be part of the engine that runs shows like the Bay by becoming a KQED member. Just go to kqed.org/donate. I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Thanks so much for listening. Peace.



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