The current Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows share their ideas, inspirations and photos from the field on our blog. Learn more about the Fellowship.
Some days I am amazed at the number of rules, regulations, ordinances, criteria, stipulations, interpretations, mandates, and grayish-colored hoops that we have to jump through in order to build affordable housing. It’s a tangled web of often contradictory terms that requires dogged perseverance. On these days I wish I could waive a magic wand and have it all make sense.
No one has offered up their magic wand just yet but this Spring we were offered a chance to further refine one of the simplest building codes in existence. Back in the 1980’s Washington State wrote its own building code specifically for seasonal farmworker housing and it is now up for a refresh. Unlike nearly every other building built in America, seasonal farmworker housing in Washington State does not have to follow the International Building Code, the International Residential Code, or any other commonly referenced code for that matter. It gets its own special treatment.
Up until the 80’s farmworker housing was largely unregulated. Farmers and Growers in remote rural locations would build their own housing for seasonal workers without any oversight. This often meant dark, cramped conditions for the occupants that left little room for dignity or quality of life. The “Temporary Worker Housing Construction Standards” were designed to be straightforward and easy to follow for growers while also looking out for the basic health and wellbeing of farmworkers and their families.
Instead of 891 pages of building jargon found in the International Building Code, growers could build housing for their workers with only 34 pages of rules and guides. Our office had a chance to comment on some of the recent changes to this code and here are a few of the suggestions we came up with:
- Locking doors and locking storage – Believe it or not this does not come standard on many farmworker housing units. We want to make sure that farmworkers can have safety and peace of mind that their belongings are secure while they are out picking the food we eat.
- Adequate lighting – The current code requires that lights be provided but does not stipulate how much. We want to make sure families have adequate lighting inside and outside their units so they may safely see and prepare for their day at 3-4am when it’s time to head out to the fields.
- Heating and insulation – It was argued for many years that seasonal units do not need integrated heating or insulation because they are only occupied during summer months. While this may have been the case at one time, picking seasons are continually expanding and even in during the warmest summer months, nighttime lows can dip into the low 50’s in most places. What’s more, many farmworker units suffer from mold and air quality issues, most of which could be prevented with a properly designed building envelope. Even if units are tucked away for the coldest winter months, it is important to be ready to keep occupants safe and comfortable in any weather.
- Create a graphic standard design guide to compliment the Code. Architects and engineers constantly reference the many graphic standards available to make sense of other codes. How much more important is this for a code designed for those outside the building profession. It will take some time and resources to develop this standard but the investment would pay exponential dividends in simplicity for builders and quality of life for farmworkers.
We still have a long way to go to make sure every seasonal farmworker has a safe, dignified place to sleep at night but until someone shows up with that magic wand, we hope these few ideas will keep things simple and ensure the health, safety, and welfare of seasonal workers in Washington.