April 11, 2017 9:10 pm

Controversial new rules for farm worker housing

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The City of Kelowna is proposing new rules for temporary farm worker housing that would mean more public scrutiny when the accommodations are for larger farms.

However, a group that advocates for farmers is arguing the city’s solution is too rigid and not enough consultation has been done.

Every year, hundreds of seasonal agricultural workers come from Jamaica and Mexico to work and stay on Okanagan farms.

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“On-farm housing is important,” said Glen Lucas, the general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

“There is a rental shortage in our city right now. [Rental housing is] just not available and it is particularly not available for short term housing in July and August.”

The city is proposing new rules for adding more temporary farm worker housing.

“The new proposed changes will make it more effective and streamlined for about 90 per cent of the growers,” said Kelowna mayor Colin Basran.

The major sticking point is a new requirement that would impact larger farms planning to add more temporary housing.

If they need to house more than 40 workers they would need a zoning amendment and go through a public hearing.

Lucas says the threshold that triggers the stricter process should be dependent on the size of the farm.

“If you have a 200 acre farm, that farm would be limited to 40 workers on the farm without having to go through a large process. [Additional housing] could be blocked for more workers and that would make that land go vacant,” said Lucas.

However, the mayor believes the new rules are justified.

“We believe if they want more than 40 workers, they need to go through a public process because we think that neighbours will want to have a say and we believe the public should have a say,” said Basran.

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The city is moving ahead with the proposal despite some calls for more consultations ahead of a public hearing.

“There hasn’t been appropriate consultation, meaningful consultation, between our city staff and the industry as a whole,” said city councillor Mohini Singh, who thought the proposal should have been deferred.

“We have been sent something in the mail, over spring break, and given two weeks to respond. That was not adequate,” said Lucas.

The mayor believes the city has consulted adequately and will be getting more input at a public hearing.

“What you are finding is that they don’t necessarily like the changes and they are calling that a lack of consultation,” said Basran.

A public hearing is set for May 2. Before any changes can come into force the province must also sign off on them.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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