By Nadine Ono.
Last year, the Central Coast grower and shipper Tanimura & Antle faced a situation for the first time in its 32-year history. The company didn’t have enough employees for the upcoming harvest season, which meant they would have to bring in immigrant farmworkers on H-2A visas. To prepare for the workers, the company began building housing. But they changed course after they started talking to their seasonal workers at their growing operation in Yuma, Arizona.
“We started to hear from employees who live there who said, ‘If Tanimura & Antle had housing, we would come to Salinas to work,’” recalled the company’s Vice President Wesley Van Camp. “They cited the reasons why they didn’t travel with the seasons and work for the company on a year-round basis, because, coming into the Monterey Bay region, the cost of housing is so high.”
She said that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment unit in the area was at the time $1,300-$1,400. Combined with the need to sign long-term leases and pay first and last month deposits, it becomes financially impractical to travel and work in the Monterey Bay region for the season.
Van Camp added the company also heard from its Salinas-based employees. “Multiple people were occupying apartments. People were sleeping on couches. They were using every available floor space– rolling out bed mats. They were renting garages to sleep in. They were renting sheds in people’s backyards. People were sleeping in cars. All this to be able to follow the seasons and be able to work.”
Their stories were so moving that the company altered their plan and decided to offer the housing to its existing seasonal workers and workers already in the area. On April 15, the Tanimura & Antle employee housing complex opened with 52 units that house 276 employees with the starting rent at $31 per week. The units are dormitory style, come in different sizes (quads, doubles and singles) and include bathrooms, kitchens, Wi-Fi and smart televisions. The campus also includes recreation facilities such as a gymnasium and fields for softball and soccer.
At the ribbon cutting and tour of Spreckels Crossing, a new apartment complex to house Tanimura & Antle workers. pic.twitter.com/32RDcyumBl
— David Castellon (@davcasttd) July 13, 2016
“We were able to fully recruit from our growing operations employees from other areas, or bring new employees to our company from out of the area and the housing was a piece of it,” said Van Camp.
She added that the company also raised wages, which brought in more skilled and productive workers. Van Camp attributes “probably one of the most productive seasons ever” to the housing offering and wages.
Employer-sponsored housing is not a new concept, but one that can take off in a region with high housing costs and a need for workers, said Jodi Nunes, the program manager at the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership. “It’s a competitive advantage for employers if they have housing, particularly in California. They can attract and retain employees easier, knowing that they don’t have to find a house, or a realtor to help them search for a home.”
She added, “We’re in such a need right now that anything that contributes to the housing stock at a faster rate than what is normally done, is something that should be applauded and praised and valued.”
In the Monterey Bay region, employer-sponsored housing is also offered by the San Mateo County Community College District at its Cañada College campus in Redwood City.
“The ability to offer housing helps establish the District as an appealing destination for top-notch educators,” said Chancellor Ron Galatolo. “We are able to recruit and retain some of the brightest and best employees at all levels to serve our students.”
Providing affordable housing to employees is one way to ensure their workforce lives in a safe and comfortable environment. It also has additional benefits when the housing is located near worksites and transit, which may reduce traffic and allow workers more leisure and family time.
Exploring innovative strategies in which local policies increase all types of housing stock closer to jobs is also part of the Housing Action Plan in the California Economic Summit’s 2016 Roadmap to Prosperity.
“Having a place to call ‘home’ is critical to our success in life, no matter what you do,” said Nunes.