Mother Nature pulled the plug on some of Michigan's most labor-intensive fruit crops this year, leaving big holes in the schedules of migratory workers who harvest and package the state's cherries, peaches and apples. Thousands of migrant workers live in housing camps maintained by tree fruit growers—even when those workers are spending most of their time in nearby vegetable fields rather than in orchards.
But with little or no fruit on the trees, many fruit growers didn't open their camps this season, dramatically limiting the housing options for the workers that vegetable growers still desperately need.
Help arrived this week: $172,000 in housing assistance from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Through Aug. 31, farm workers at risk of losing their housing—or finding none at all—can apply for up to $400 in housing assistance.
Designated community action agencies will evaluate applicants' eligibility criteria, including work status, income and the state licensing status of the housing in question, then make a direct payment to eligible families' housing provider. The agencies may also help find housing for workers and families without shelter.
The issue first came to light in early June, when Michigan Farm Bureau Agricultural Labor Manager Craig Anderson brought it to the attention of the state's Interagency Migrant Services Committee, composed of various institutions representing the interests of both workers and employers.
"We hope it helps in situations where camps aren't opening, or in areas with gaps in work availability," Anderson said. "It's been a challenging year and will continue to be a challenging year. Nobody's seen anything like this since the 1940s.