California City Settles Claim of Discrimination Against Farmworkers

HUD has reached a Voluntary Compliance/Conciliation Agreement with the City of Santa Maria, CA, 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.

The City agreed to 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, almost all of whom are Hispanic. The City has also agreed to undertake an effort to analyze and identify any other existing zoning laws that may be discriminatory.

The text and legislative history of this particular ordinance make it clear that the restrictions were directed solely at housing for certain farmworker visa-holders, over 90% of whom are from Mexico.

The City entered into the agreement in order to avoid litigation and a possible $400,000 fine. In addition to the repeal of the ordinance, city staff must take fair housing training, and the City must hire a designated housing resource employee and improve language accessibility in city services.

This is just the latest of many attempts through the years of localities to keep out Hispanic workers. When such ordinances clearly target individuals from specific countries or geographic parts of the world, they violate the national origin protections of the Fair Housing Act.