California and agriculture go hand in hand; it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other. Similarly, we can’t talk about our farmers and ranchers and not mention the farm workers – the backbone of California’s agriculture industry.
Eduardo Jaramillo has spent much of his life working in the vineyards in Calistoga, part of California’s world-renowned Napa Valley wine region. “I love working with the earth, I can’t imagine ever doing anything else,” he explained. To afford housing, he and his wife shared a house with their adult son. But when an electrical malfunction caused a fire - destroying the house - they were devastated. They lost everything. With help from their church they were able to find new housing, but the high rent coupled with the added burden of replacing their furniture and other basic necessities proved too much. They faced the real possibility of being forced to leave Calistoga, and the vineyards Eduardo had spent his life cultivating.
Affordable housing in Calistoga is not easy to come by, resulting in many families living in less-than-ideal situations. This is especially true for the area’s farm workers where the high cost of living is a daily struggle to pay their bills or feed their families. These uncertainties also create challenges for farmers needing a reliable workforce.
But the Jaramillos were in luck. With support from USDA Rural Development’s Farm Labor Housing Program, Calistoga Family Apartments, a new 48-unit apartment complex developed by Corporation for Better Housing, was about to open their doors.
The apartments are unique in a couple of ways. First, they are dedicated specifically to farm workers and their families, like the Jaramillos. And to ensure rents remain affordable for the tenants, USDA also provides Rental Assistance so no one pays more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Secondly, this is a Net Zero Energy project, which means that the project is designed to generate as much energy as it consumes. That translates to nearly non-existent monthly electric bills, and a peace of mind for families living on limited budgets. And kids have the added benefit of participating in Kids Club, an after-school program to help with homework, organized activities and nutritious meals.
“It’s hard for me to express in words the joy I feel,” said Eduardo. “I feel so much relief knowing that I don’t have to share a house just so I can afford shelter, and I don’t have to worry where I’m going to get money for this week’s groceries.”
Calistoga Family Apartments is just one of more than 115 USDA-financed projects in California dedicated to farm workers and their families.