Farmworker housing could get boost

by | Jan 24, 2024

The Florida Senate Agriculture Committee approved legislation limiting local government control over farmworker housing construction to address a statewide labor shortage and meet federal guest worker program requirements.

Local governments would face some limits on regulating the construction of farmworker housing, as state lawmakers seek to attract more seasonal agricultural workers amid rising housing costs.

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill (SB 1082) that seeks to prevent cities and counties from “inhibiting” construction or installation of housing for workers on agricultural land.

Committee Chairman Jay Collins, R-Tampa, pointed to a shortage of a “stable, legal workforce” and said farmers need affordable housing to qualify for what is known as the federal H-2A guest worker program.

“There are 52,000 workers needed across the state of Florida as we step into the next growing season, that is 5.2 million square feet of housing required to put them in,” Collins said.

The housing would be for seasonal or annually employed agricultural workers who are verified as eligible to work in the U.S.

Any construction would have to follow federal, state, and local building standards, but the bill would prohibit local officials from adopting land-use regulations more restrictive than certain state and federal rules.

David Hill, chairman of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, said the goal is for farmers “not to be at the whim of the different municipalities and counties, or whoever governs wherever they’re trying to build.”

“We can grow our crop, but without harvesting it we might as well not grow the crop,” said Hill, an owner of Southern Hill Farms in Clermont. “No one is going to pick the crops that we grow except for the people we’re trying to bring over, in H-2A in particular.”

The proposal would require that structures have a minimum 10 feet of separation, not exceed square footage of 1.5 percent of the property’s area or 35,000 square feet, have 50-foot setbacks and not be located within 250 feet of a property line adjacent to residential property. Any structure within 500 feet of neighboring residential property would need to have screening of trees, a wall, a berm or fencing that is at least 6 feet high.

Jeff Scala, associate director of the Florida Association Counties, called the proposed buffer “reasonable” as he supported the measure.

The bill said housing structures would have to be removed if not used for at least a year or if the property ceases to be classified as agricultural.

The measure, which needs approval from the Rules Committee before it could go to the full Senate, said seasonal housing in the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern and the City of Key West Area of Critical State Concern would have to follow a local permit-allocation system used to regulate new residential development.

The House version (HB 1051) of the bill is scheduled to go before the House Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee on Wednesday.


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