Farm workers and county settle housing discrimination case

David Limón Saldivar (760) 398-7261
Directing Attorney, CRLA Coachella Regional Office
Ilene J. Jacobs
(530) 742-7235
CRLA Director of Litigation, Advocacy & Training
Leticia De Lara
(760) 863-8211
Legislative Assistant, Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson’s Office      COACHELLA, CALIFORNIA. California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA), representing 30 low-income mobile home park tenants, almost all farmworkers, and Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson announce today that they have reached a voluntary agreement, approved by HUD, resolving disputes about farmworker housing and mobile home park code enforcement and housing discrimination based on national origin.
     Settlement of the fair housing claims will provide $21 million in much needed housing assistance and community services for farmworkers and other rural poor in eastern Riverside County.
     HUD conciliated the enforcement agreement after the farmworkers filed fair housing complaints against Riverside County.
     Tenant fair housing complaints alleged that Riverside County discriminated against farmworkers and others residing in mobile home parks on the basis of their national origin, Hispanic, by engaging in selective and discriminatory code enforcement activity.
     Rita Benitez and neighbors in a Thermal mobile home park received County notices ordering them to disconnect all utilities and move their mobile homes out in 30 days, or face being sued and forcibly evicted.
     "I felt scared and angry and didn't understand because I did nothing wrong. Why was I being treated like this? I had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. I couldn't believe the County would treat people the way it treated me. I remember thinking that if I were White and spoke better English, the County would treat me differently.", said Benitez, who filed a fair housing complaint.
     Maria Hernandez, residing in the park with her husband and three children was so frightened by her notice that she sold her mobile home at a loss, moved in with relatives in an overcrowded mobile home and eventually was forced to rent an apartment that the family could not afford.
     "My husband and I were very sad to have to sell our mobile home. We put a lot of money into it and lost it all. When I think about what my children had to go through when we left, moving away from their friends and going to a different school, living in such a crowded place with no privacy, and being hungry sometimes because we didn't have enough money to pay for food, I start to cry.", said Maria Hernandez, who also filed a fair housing complaint.
     Sotero Bautista and his wife, residing in a mobile home park in Thermal, were sued by the County."It makes me upset when I remember the way the County was treating us. I'm happy to learn the County recognized that it made mistakes and is now willing to make up for those mistakes. I never thought I would be able to own a house. The thought of being able to afford one was always just a dream and now the County is making it possible", said Mr. Bautista.
     HUD investigated the complaints and concluded that the allegations had merit and that they were sufficient to establish violations of both Title VI and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. HUD also recognized that through the leadership of Fourth District Supervisor Roy Wilson, once alerted to the complaints, took immediate action to modify its policies and procedures to provide greater protection to mobile home park residents and safeguard against similar County action taking place in the future.
     "I view these proceedings as having provided us an opportunity to improve upon our policies and procedures and the way we communicate with and receive input from the community. This is really a win-win situation for all the parties involved.", said Fourth District Supervisor, Roy Wilson.
     Jose Padilla, CRLA Executive Director, said "Riverside County Supervisor Wilson should be commended for his leadership in reaching a settlement agreement that will benefit migrant and seasonal farmworkers, and other workers in the Coachella Valley, who are the backbone of the County’s agricultural economy and contribute so much to its wealth and prosperity."
     "Code enforcement too often is motivated by discrimination against the people who own and occupy the housing, rather than by genuine health and safety concerns, and exploits the most vulnerable communities in this country such as migrant farmworkers and recent immigrants who suffer the terrible impact of eviction and displacement", said Ilene Jacobs, director of litigation for California Rural Legal Assistance.
     Riverside County has committed $21 million over the next 10 years, some of which will go directly to benefit the 30 individual mobile home park tenants who filed the complaints. The major part will go to support programs designed to benefit the community of farmworkers and other low income individuals and families.
     Riverside County will apply for all available local, state and federal funding to be used to build housing for farmworkers and other rural poor, help create a non-profit organization to build quality mobile home parks in the eastern end of the County, continue to fund and support three additional mobile home and manufactured housing projects in the communities of Coachella, Mecca and on land located on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation, fund and support a stick-built housing complex in Coachella, fund housing programs in the next 10 years to benefit farmworkers and other low-income families and individuals, fund a Farmworker Service Center in downtown Mecca which will serve as a one-stop facility where farmworkers can go and receive information on available housing assistance programs as well as receive health, social service and other educational related assistance and information. The agreement anticipates breaking ground on this project by early October, 2000.
     "For farmworkers, access to information and services too often is beyond their reach. The Farmworker Service Center will bridge this gap and provide farmworkers the opportunity to take advantage of programs and services to improve their lives and living conditions. Farmworkers deserve no less.", said David Limón Saldivar, Directing Attorney for the Coachella Regional Office of CRLA.
     Greater protection will be available to mobile home park residents under the settlement agreement, in which the County also agreed to continue to improve code enforcement policies and procedures, use bilingual notices, hire a sufficient bilingual staff to meet the needs of the Hispanic community, training staff about fair housing laws and working with people with diverse backgrounds and cultures, fund fair housing community education and outreach and related activities.