A report commissioned by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board found that up to 40% of the housing for migrant farm workers does not meet minimum standards for safety and cleanliness. The necessary upgrades to each dwelling would require at least $5000, money most farmers cannot spare because of the financial pressure of low milk prices.
There’s not enough housing for migrant workers, who are mainly single men, so overcrowding is a common condition. Many workers live in trailers, which can be of poor quality and are difficult to repair. A 2014 Migrant Justice survey found that 10% of workers’ housing units had no heat and about 15% had no running water. Units are not cleaned or maintained regularly and often lack trash removal or food storage.
The scope of the problem is not fully clear. About 2000 farmworkers live on the farms where they work. But there is no state oversight or inspection for workers’ housing, and if they are undocumented they are less likely to file complaints.
On April 21 the Housing and Conservation Board gave testimony about their findings to lawmakers. The possibility of using some of the millions of dollars in federal relief money coming into the state to improve housing conditions for migrant workers was discussed, but it is unlikely that a farmworker housing proposal will move forward during this legislative session.
Representative Tom Stevens said in an interview that the testimony “put it onto our radars to move forward policy work that can be funded in the near future.” But how money from the American Rescue plan can be allocated is not yet known.