KINGSVILLE — The Town of Kingsville has temporarily lifted a ban on migrant farm workers living in rural and urban homes, capping the number of workers who can stay in those accommodations at four.
“If council’s direction is to continue with a complete ban on all off-site worker housing, the risk is that potentially hundreds of workers will be denied entry into Canada and the losses to the greenhouse industry will be substantial,” town CAO John Norton said Monday in a report to council.
Kingsville had a longstanding policy of allowing four or fewer workers to live in non-farm housing, but a recent reinterpretation of the zoning bylaw by town administration determined only on-site accommodations located on a farm or greenhouse operation were permitted.
The move Monday is temporary and lasts until Dec. 31. It allows a consultant hired by the town to prepare a study outlining options and recommendations for housing farm workers. A report by the consultant is expected this summer.
“Council decided let’s just stay with the status quo to allow the four workers off the farm,” Norton said in an interview. “If they hadn’t decided that tonight we would have had to go out tomorrow and start enforcing, finding out where these workers are and evicting them if necessary.”
He said a strict enforcement policy would be expensive and likely not effective.
One of the things I’m concerned about is … farm owners going underground with (their) workers. We know that’s a problem, we have now have 25 to 35 (known) houses, and you can darn well bet it’s double that right now.
A number of farm and greenhouse operators appeared before council Monday and spoke against the ban.
“I have some of my guys with me for a long time,” Jim Klassen said. “They like the house they’re in and I have guys who are looking to become permanent residents, maybe buy a house.
“I have to tell them … agricultural workers are not allowed in neighbourhoods. That breaks my heart,” he said.
Coun. Larry Patterson supported lifting the ban as a short-term measure and conceded the decision would be unpopular with some Kingsville residents.
“When I go home I’ll have received a ton of emails … telling me different things,” Patterson said.
He said Monday’s decision was a move forward because it requires the registration of non-farm accommodations.
“One of the things I’m concerned about is … farm owners going underground with (their) workers. We know that’s a problem, we have now have 25 to 35 (known) houses, and you can darn well bet it’s double that right now.”
Norton’s report said most of the non-farm housing for workers is in rural areas of the municipality.
Richard Colasanti, an agri-businessman, said housing for temporary workers is not just a farming issue.
He said the federal government is looking to bring in more offshore workers to fill labour shortages in the hospitality and food processing sectors.
“So how does a restaurant house them on … site? How does a factory or anybody else?” he said.
Norton’s report noted many greenhouse operators prefer housing their workers on-site, but cannot build bunkhouses fast enough to meet demand.
He said greenhouse operators face “long waits” for septic tank approvals by the Ministry of Environment.