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Vermont devotes more money to improve farmworker housing

English: A photograph of a dirty air conditioning unit set into a wall. Español: La foto de un aire acondicionado sucio puesto en la pared.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
A replacement air conditioner that a farmworker, Javier, who spoke with Vermont Public in 2022, says his boss finally gave him and his roommates after an old AC unit stopped working properly for months during the summer.

This story, by Report for America corps member Carly Berlin, was produced through a partnership between VTDigger and Vermont Public.

More Vermont farmers will soon be able to access loans to improve housing for their workers.

Champlain Housing Trust announced Monday that the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has approved an additional $2.45 million for the trust’s farmworker housing program, which provides loans for farmers to repair existing accommodations or replace housing that is considered beyond repair.

A 2021 study commissioned by VHCB estimated that about 2,000 farmworkers lived on farms, many of them migrant workers who work long hours and lack transportation. Multiple reports have detailed widespread health and safety issues with the housing provided to them.

Launched last year, the repair and replacement initiatives have garnered a lot of interest among farmers across the state, from dairy operations to orchardists to flower farms, said Julie Curtin, director of homeownership for Champlain Housing Trust. The University of Vermont’s Extension program has helped provide outreach to farmers about the program.

“Improving housing is a way to keep people with the operation, and so it’s a way to prevent turnover and keep their employees happy,” Curtin said.

Previous coverage: Vt.’s housing health & safety system didn’t protect farmworkers, so they created their own program

Since the Farmworker Housing Repair Loan Program launched in early 2022, eight projects have been completed and another 30 are underway, according to a press release. An additional two replacement projects — intended for farms that need to replace housing that can’t be renovated, including housing in barns or older manufactured homes — have received funds.

Altogether, the loans already doled out will improve housing for about 150 farmworkers, according to the release. With the new round of funding from VHCB, Champlain Housing Trust estimates that it can fund repairs for 50 additional units of farmworker housing and replace another five.

Repairs have ranged from replacing old septic systems and heating systems to remediating mold and repairing roofs, Curtin said.

Loans for repairs are capped at $30,000, have 0% interest, and will be forgiven after 10 years as long as farmers continue to maintain the housing and reserve it for farmworkers. Replacement loans are capped at $120,000, and only the first $30,000 can be forgiven, Curtin said.

Champlain Housing Trust has a list of approximately 50 farmers who are interested in the new funds, including some who are seeking a second repair loan, Curtin said. The trust hopes to open up applications later this fall, “after the harvest season is over and farmers have a little bit of breathing room” to gather documentation and get contractors lined up to start work in late winter or early spring.

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Carly covers housing and infrastructure for Vermont Public and VTDigger and is a corps member with the national journalism nonprofit Report for America.
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