Farmworkers at Lakeside Organic in Watsonville.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Affordable housing development focused on farmworkers approved

The What: An 80-unit affordable housing development near Watsonville — with 39 units designated for farmworkers and another 12 for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — is moving forward after the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors gave its final approval Tuesday.

The So What: Advocates say the project, called Pippin Phase II, will provide sorely needed homes for agricultural workers, a group largely ignored in affordable housing discussions.

“There is an immense need here, and a need for affordable housing in general,” said Joanna Carman, director of housing development for MidPen Housing Corporation, the project developer.

Those opposed, who have been relatively few in number, have raised concerns about traffic congestion and the development’s impact on nearby wildlife.

Backgrounder: The project has been in the works since 2014 and comes on the heels of Pippin Phase I, which opened its doors in April 2019. Carman told Lookout last month that the original development received 2,500 applications for 46 units.

“That data point makes people see the intense need, and is an effective statistic for us to use,” she said.

The board of supervisors is involved because the development is on county land, adjacent to Watsonville city limits.

Voices: Supervisor Greg Caput, whose district includes the development, said he believes affordable housing needs to be more spread out throughout the county. He later voted in favor of the project.

“North County, you’ve got to help out, too,” he said.

Supervisor Zach Friend agreed, though he noted that the project has been thoroughly vetted.

Joan Goldman, a homeowner in the Brewington-Crestview area, asked the board to delay approval, saying the area would not be able to support traffic from the units.

But Natalie Herendeen, executive director of the Center for Community Advocacy, said the project would positively affect farmworkers’ “health and the overall well-being of our community.”

What’s next: With the unanimous approval, MidPen officials said the company is aiming to begin construction in the first half of 2022.