News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY Long time migrant agricultural worker Ludivina Martinez fought tears as she described how she no longer feels welcome in Avon Park.
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published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
AP eyes housing rules for seasonal agricultural workers
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- Members of the city council tabled discussion during a first hearing Monday on a proposed amendment to the Avon Park's Land Development Code.
The proposed ordinance, referred to as Ord. 12-15, stirred controversy during the meeting, and it was agreed some changes had to made in its language before preceding.
At issue is 12-15's proposal to abolish farm worker housing in low density residence zones and only allow them a conditional use in high density residential areas, and neighborhood or office commercial zones.
Changes are also proposed for boarding houses, which would only be allowed conditional use in mixed-use commercial zones.
Because of changes in the LDC's definitions of "farm worker" and "farm worker housing," agricultural workers unrelated to one another would not be allowed to share a home as a family in a low density zone.
William Bennett, vice-president of Management Experts Inc., speaking on behalf of himself and some of his clients, warned the council that the proposed zoning changes leave the city open for possible discrimination lawsuits.
That is because the new ordinance would push migrant farm workers outside city limits.
In an interview, he said the proposed policy amounted to "alienation of a segment of the population. It's just wrong."
He was particularly offended, he said, when city attorney Gerald Buhr implied migrant workers were a blight on the city by comparing them to washing machines in front yards.
He warned the new policy could put the city back on CNN (as it was in 2006 when a proposed law would have fined anyone doing business with illegal immigrants).
The city already has adequate housing codes in place, Bennett said, to deal with neglected or overcrowded property. "The core issue is that code enforcement should be more proactive," he said.
Just as important, Bennett said the loss of migrant workers would hurt the city's economy.
Which is why local growers, harvesters and property owners are upset with 12-15, Bennett told the council. They are concerned they may not be able to use housing they have already prepared for their workers, thereby losing revenue, or even find adequate housing at all.
"The workers will actually pay a higher level of rent than if a typical family rented the house," Bennett said, adding that property owners and corporations will maintain their properties in order to qualify for the federal program called H2A.
H2A provides farm workers with a visa to work legally in this country.
Among other oversight, housing is closely regulated, down to the size of the windows, number of beds in a room and the number of people sharing a dwelling.
The regulations protect the city, Bennett said.
In addition, by pushing migrant labor outside the city, he estimated Avon Park would lose tax revenue, and its merchants millions annually in local sales, based on the population during the picking season and a worker's average income of $400 a week.
Bennett said studies show individuals typically spent 40 percent of every paycheck shopping locally.
That amounts to an average of $6,200 spent in town, per worker, per year.
He could think of six businesses, he added, catering to Mexican workers that would probably be forced to shut down. Restaurants would be affected too.
While Bennett addressed the possible practical repercussions, Ludivina Martinez spoke to the human side of living in Avon Park as a migrant worker.
At times she fought tears as she explained the prejudice, hardships and frustrations farm workers share.
She was 16 years old when she started to pick tobacco, she said.
That was 26 years ago. She now suffers from years of exposure to pesticides.
In the country legally, Martinez said she settled in Avon Park. It feels like home to her family. Her sons get excited when they get on U.S. 27 headed south after weeks of picking out of state, she said.
With the proposed re-zoning, however, "we don't feel accepted in our own country," Martinez said.
"(The ordinance) is not intended to be discriminatory to farm workers," Buhr said.
The first reading will continue at the next regular city council meeting 5:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 24.
Tour of H-2A Housing (by: Will Bennett - 9/19/2012)
Also, ff you'd like to see what a permitted and inspected house looks like, I'm more than willing to give you a tour.
Couple of Facts (by: Will Bennett - 9/19/2012)
I have a farmworker house behind my house on County Line Rd. I live next to them and have no problems.
Bennet (by: concerned white boy - 9/18/2012)
Bennet wants all the migrant workers he can keep in AP to charge them $300.00 a piece to do their taxes and then charge there crewleader to do the payroll. He is your typical redneck. Wants the mexicans available to make money off of them but doesnt want them as neighbors.
IF! (by: Blindman - 9/16/2012)
If these working people are causing a real problem the issue should be addressed. Otherwise, leave it alone!
What beds (by: Spanky - 9/16/2012)
We all know there aint such thing as a bed in a farmworker home. We have all seen the mattresses stacked like a deck of cards that go from rental to rental. I bet they are really sanitary too. Hey Mr Bennett, would you sleep on one?
Farmworkers (by: Yo-yo - 9/16/2012)
Bennett wants Avon Park to become the new Mecca for farmworkers.
All about the mula (by: Born here - 9/16/2012)
Anyone catch this dude on TV during the Council meeting? He said he was thankful he didnt live in the City. Why not Mr Bennett? Because you might have a pile of transient men living next door to you and your family? Weren't you the same guy that represented the Chamber as their chairman? But hates the thought of living inside the City? You cant have it both ways unless you are lying to the people. You opened the door for criticism the moment you opened your mouth. Its very clear this is all about the mula for you. So you import poverty to Avon Park at the expense of the residents and the businesses that you pretended to represent. If you see the need for more migrant camps in Avon Park, why dont you put one next to your home?
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