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Santa Maria City leaders on verge of solving H-2A migrant worker program housing dilemma

After six months of community meetings, the Santa Maria city leaders believe they may have found a permanent solution to the H-2A migrant farm workers dilemma.

Under the H-2A visa program, growers are allowed to bring foreign farm workers to the U.S. for temporary jobs, but they must provide food and housing for them. However, concerns have come up over these guest workers taking over residential housing.

“My daughter takes the bus and everything, but she still has to walk a couple of blocks just to get to the bus stop,” said Francisco Lozano, a Santa Maria resident.

Lozano said it’s especially tough on parents who can’t find apartments near schools.

Others say it would be unfair to house the migrant farm workers in the outskirts of town, away from medical services, grocery stores, and other basic needs.

During the last five community meetings, city leaders talked about a proposed ordinance aimed at solving the issue.

“Employee housing of six or fewer people would be permitted in any residential zone in the city,” said Santa Maria Public Information Officer Mark Van de Kamp. “Seven people or more would require a conditional use permit.”

The planning commission will discuss the proposed ordinance next Wednesday. It could be on the city’s council’s table as soon as two weeks.

“There’s a real need in the agriculture community for qualified workers to come in and harvest the crops and the federal H2A program is a very important component of that,” said Van de Kamp.

There were approximately 1,700 H-2A workers in Santa Maria during the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

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