Legislature approves more money for farmworker housing inspections


Budget rider quadruples funding for migrant farmworker housing inspection efforts.

Funding boost represents small victory for advocates after bill to overhaul inspection program fails.

Texas lawmakers approved a funding boost for the state’s farmworker housing inspection program that will more than quadruple the amount of money regulators spend to ensure housing meets minimum health and safety standards.

The budget rider, passed as part of the Legislature’s adoption of a two-year, $216.8 billion budget Saturday, represents a small victory for lawmakers and farmworker housing advocates who had been pushing to overhaul the state’s inspection program.

While bills aimed at making inspection efforts more aggressive died during the legislative session, the budget rider will ensure that money raised by licensing and inspection fees is funneled back into the inspection program.

That funding — estimated at $10,250 per year — represents an increase over the less than $2,500 the Texas Department of Community and Housing Affairs spent on inspections in 2015. Previously, money raised through fees ended up in the state’s general fund.

While noting that the funding amount is relatively small, Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who authored the rider along with Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, said that he and advocates would “put pressure on the agency to use that money and be more aggressive in their inspections and enforcement.”

A 2016 American-Statesman investigation found that Texas badly trails most other states with large migratory farmworker populations in funding inspections. For example, Michigan spent $1.1 million on inspections in 2015; Florida spent $828,000. The investigation also found that the state housing department had not levied a single enforcement action against operators of migrant farmworker facilities since at least 2005, even after they failed inspections.

Advocates and lawmakers have pushed Texas regulators to be more proactive in finding and licensing what are believed to be large numbers of housing facilities operating outside the law. By one estimate, as many as 9 in 10 of the state’s farmworkers stay in housing that doesn’t meet state and federal standards.

State inspectors in 2015 conducted 40 inspections of housing facilities, mostly operated by a stable group of growers in the cotton-growing regions of the Panhandle.

At legislative committee hearings, migratory farmworkers told lawmakers of poor conditions in places like Premont, near Corpus Christi, that have typically been off the radar of state inspectors.

The bills would have made it easier for farmworkers to submit complaints about substandard housing, raised penalties against housing operators who skirt the law, and required the housing department to study the availability and condition of farmworker housing.

“It’s beyond disappointing that our legislation, which would have reformed TDHCA into the responsive, proactive regulator it’s supposed to be, did not ultimately pass,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll keep working with the agency and my fellow lawmakers over the interim so we’re better positioned to pass an even stronger bill next session.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Draylen Mason honored with mural in East Austin
Draylen Mason honored with mural in East Austin

Austin artist Mike Johnston put up a mural in East Austin in memory of Austin bombing victim Draylen Mason.  The poster is glued to an electric box in East Austin at Pleasant Valley and Webberville roads. Johnston said he put it there Wednesday morning.  Mason was one of two people killed by a package bomb in Austin during a spree that left...
Day care owner gets 20-year sentence in infant’s death
Day care owner gets 20-year sentence in infant’s death

A day care owner who waited at least 14 minutes to call 911 for a suffocating infant was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday afternoon. Holly Harrison, who ran All About Kids day care, pleaded guilty earlier this month to tampering with evidence and no contest to injury to a child. Williamson County District Court Judge Rick Kennon sentenced Harrison...
Austin forecast: Overcast Friday to set stage for stormy Saturday

After a string of mild but sunny spring days this week, the National Weather Service says Austin should prepare for an overcast Friday and a stormy Saturday. As of Thursday afternoon, forecasters were expecting mostly cloudy skies on Friday with milder than normal temperatures reaching only 73. Southeast winds blowing in from the Gulf at 10 mph in...
Appeals court blocks Texas ‘revenge porn’ law
Appeals court blocks Texas ‘revenge porn’ law

A state appeals court has struck down a 2015 law that made it a crime to post “revenge porn” — intimate photos and videos from a previous or current relationship — on the internet without consent. The Tyler-based 12th Court of Appeals, in a ruling handed down Wednesday, said the law violated the First Amendment by restricting...
What happened when I tried to ride standup electric scooters in Austin
What happened when I tried to ride standup electric scooters in Austin

The lobbyist for Lyft was flabbergasted, and more than a little contemptuous, at my admission. It was early May 2016, almost two years after Uber and Lyft had begun operations (illegally) in Austin, and one day before the election on the proposed ordinance the ride-hailing companies had crafted to replace one enacted by the Austin City Council...
More Stories