California City Settles Claims of Housing Discrimination Against Farmworkers

The City of Santa Maria, Calif., recently entered into a settlement agreement with HUD resolving allegations that the city’s enactment and enforcement of restrictions on housing for certain farmworker visa-holders in residential areas of the city violated the Fair Housing Act and Section 109 of the Housing and Community Development Act.

In April 2020 HUD opened a compliance review of the city’s housing restrictions. It found that the restrictions were directed solely at housing for certain farmworker visa-holders, over 90 percent of whom are from Mexico. HUD subsequently filed a complaint alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

According to the agreement, the city must immediately halt enforcement of the ordinance that created the restrictions, repeal the ordinance within 90 days, and refrain from enacting any similar restrictions. The ordinance imposed a discretionary conditional use permit requirement on housing for employees, which was directed at housing for H-2A foreign national farmworker visa-holders.

The city also agreed to review fines imposed under the ordinance for potential refunds and hire an Employee Housing Resource Officer to receive and address complaints regarding discrimination and the quality and safety of occupied employee housing units going forward. Finally, the city agreed to undertake an effort to analyze and identify any other existing zoning laws that may be discriminatory, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“Excluding residents from neighborhoods because of their race, color, or national origin violates fair housing laws,” said Jeanine Worden, HUD's Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “There is a long history of segregation and exclusion of agricultural workers in this country, and it is time it stopped. The Fair Housing Act is clear—jurisdictions may not zone people out of neighborhoods or towns based on their race, color, or national origin.”