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Supervisors commit $200,000 for farmworkers' housing

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Marin supervisors have committed $200,000 to a program that improves housing for the county's farmworkers.

The money, drawn from state and county sources, will launch a program to rebuild 10 homes.

"Many of these are older, manufactured homes," said Leelee Thomas, principal planner for the county's affordable housing program. "A lot of them don't fall under county jurisdiction - they're governed by the state Department of Housing and Community Development - so we're not even aware of their condition."

While farms in other areas sometimes rely on temporary workers, Marin's dairies require year-round help from full-time employees, said Farm Bureau President Dominic Grossi.

"Typically the ratio is one worker per 100 cows," said Grossi, a Novato dairy rancher. "A lot of farm employees have families, so it would be nice to put in something like a duplex, with two kitchens and four bedrooms."

County officials want the new homes to be as "green" as possible, incorporating solar energy systems and efficient building materials.

"Manufactured housing comes in all kinds, from trailers to Michelle Kaufmann homes," Thomas said, referring to the designer of prefabricated homes. "We're looking for something in between, using green building practices and solar arrays."

Thomas has already received applications for 30 units on 16 ranches. First priority will go to ranchers whose property is legally restricted to agricultural use, such as members of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

County officials hope to expand the program's fund to $4 million. Like the current grant, the funding would be split between the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the county's in-lieu housing trust fund. The county's $2 million share will come from the $3.2 million refund in Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund property tax dollars Marin received in 2007 with the help of state Sen. Carole Migden, who requested that it be used for affordable housing. Officials will seek other funding from the Marin Community Foundation.

"The fact that this money is a grant should send a strong message that we want to keep agriculture active in this county," Supervisor Steve Kinsey said.

Supervisors approved the measure on a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Susan Adams absent.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com