Finding room for guest workers a challenge

Significant investment approved by Housing Authority

OROVILLE – Last February representatives from Gold Digger Apples, Taber Orchards and Del Rosario Orchards approached the Oroville Housing Authority to ask if they could house more than 100 H2A guest workers, some staying for as much as half a year, at their farmworkers camp off Sawtell Road.

Currently the OHA doesn’t have the capacity to house that many extra people in the 18 trailers it owns and housing them in the new Harvest Park is not allowed under the organizations agreement with the US RDA which financed the facility.

Last year the OHA put a couple dozen H2A workers and the overflow of migrant workers from the Harvest Park up in the trailers and in five large tents. The OHA board told the representatives from the orchards and fruit growers cooperative that they would invest in pouring additional concrete slabs so that they could rent another five – eight-man wall tents and converting the recreation room to a bunkhouse to handle the influx of H2A workers. However, at their Wednesday, April 11 meeting the board was informed by Housing Authority Director Cheryl Lewis that this would not work because the health department would not allow guest workers to live in the air conditioned tents because of H2A regulations.

Lewis and her assistant Cole Renfro informed the board that they had formulated an alternative plan which would cost about the same as pouring the concrete slabs, adding additional power poles and converting the recreation room. The plan would include building a 25 foot by 30 foot building for additional sleeping space, converting the recreation room and adding two cooktops to the kitchen area. Other costs would include purchasing the bunkbeds.

“Del Rosario plans on bringing in 65 guest workers, Gold Digger, 51 and Tabers 10,” said Renfro. “Del Rosario’s workers will be here about six and a half months, Gold Digger’s four months and Tabers for two.”

Although the project will cost the Housing Authority in the neighborhood of $30,000, the board approved the measure a their April meeting with the understanding that the authority will recoup the investment and clear $70,000 which can be reinvested in farmworker housing projects in the future.

H2A is a federal program under which employers can bring in guest workers who must be guaranteed housing. The OHA provided housing for a much smaller number last year.

“We are going with the program because we want to guarantee a labor source above and beyond what we already employ. This shouldn’t affect any of the migrant workers we have employed in the past,” said Greg Moser, general manager of Gold Digger Inc. at the February meeting.