April 2, 2024

From Farm Labor to Building Community

Manda LaPorte
Aerial view of Sunnyside, Washington. Photo credit, Ob Cruz.

Driving into Sunnyside, you pass by farms, vineyards, orchards, and fields of hops. Just from first glance, it is clear that agriculture is the base of Sunnyside’s economy. Like much of the rest of Washington state, farmworkers are essential to Sunnyside’s economy, and their numbers are growing. Sunnyside’s population is expanding faster than housing can be built, especially the affordable units needed to house the often low-wage farmworkers that are the heart of this community.

Catholic Charities Housing Services of Central Washington (CCHS) knows that housing for farmworkers is essential and a moral imperative, in Sunnyside and other farming communities in the area. Besides being the center of the workforce, Sunnyside’s farmworkers bring their families, knowledge, culture, and dedication to the community. To nurture this community, CCHS is looking to establish a large-scale affordable housing development, including both rentals and opportunities for homeownership, that builds on the strengths, needs, and wants of Sunnyside residents. CCHS wants this neighborhood to embody the spirit of the community, which means bringing the community into the design process.

Bryan Ketcham from CCHS talking with Sunnyside resident about their upcoming development during Sunnyside's Local Design Workshop. Photo credit, Ob Cruz.

Farmworkers in Washington

Harvesting crops is largely a low-wage job, but for many – including farmworkers in Sunnyside, WA –it can serve as a stepping-stone into higher-paid and better work options. However, farmworker advocates like CCHS have seen a recent shift. While some data suggests that the average age of farmworkers is increasing because of advancements in agricultural technologies, CCHS has observed an increase in economic and social barriers to farmworker advancement. Because many farmworkers are immigrants, first generation Americans, or rely on temporary work visas, Washington-based farmworkers are forced to stay in this industry, cut off from opportunities to move up financially. In addition to barriers for advancement, the farm labor population also is becoming less mobile than previous generations due to crop seasons lengthening and crop diversification. Many farmworkers are no longer migratory. Thus, CCHS seeks to build housing for farmworkers based on current trends.

Sunnyside residents give feedback on two design concepts presented during the Local Design Workshop. Photo credit, Ob Cruz.

Community engagement above all else

Long before becoming a CIRD Local Design Workshop community, CCHS was committed to engaging the Sunnyside community in design and development. After issuing a Call for Proposals, CCHS chose SMR Architects, a Seattle-based architecture firm, to lead the community through this new and complex process. Upon partnering with CIRD, the local resource team further connected with Sunnyside, building on earlier work and rooted in CCHS’s ethos of community engagement. With a mutual respect and understanding of a common goal, Sunnyside approached the design process with open minds and hearts – excited to collaborate and listen.

Sunnyside resident discussing site concepts with local resource team at on of CCHS's developments. Photo credit, Manda LaPorte.

More than homeownership

Affordable housing goes beyond homeownership. CCHS recognizes that not every family in Sunnyside is ready to buy a home. This project also will include the development of 120 to 150 multi-family rental units, allowing space for families to settle and grow within the community.

During the design charrettes, Sunnyside residents expressed a desire that these rental units be well integrated into the rest of the neighborhood. Understanding that it may complicate the development, the community wanted to prioritize the overall feeling and inclusion of all future residents.

Additionally, Sunnyside stakeholders saw this development as an opportunity to create community spaces that worked for the community. Although stylistic preferences varied, open land, playgrounds, walking paths, community gathering spaces, and parking that prioritized safety were prominent themes throughout the listening sessions. Sunnyside is yearning for a neighborhood that centers around community amenities available for all to enjoy. Safe and inviting spaces are a priority across the income spectrum.

One of the design concepts presented to the Sunnyside community during the final day at the local design workshop. Photo credit, Ob Cruz.

Moving forward

Ultimately, the local resource and CIRD design teams worked in tandem to gain a deeper understanding of the Sunnyside community. While one design played off of SMR’s original site design concepts, the CIRD team challenged the group to use the new information from the community to create a second, completely different concept. This way the community could come back together and pick and choose aspects of each that spoke most to them. In addition to stepping away with two site concepts, the team learned What they value. Where they came from. Who they are. Why they love Sunnyside. The CIRD workshop was just the beginning. Over the next two years, CCHS will continue its commitment to engaging the community throughout this project. From design, to funding, to building, the Sunnyside community will have its hands in all aspects of this development.

Read more about the CIRD workshop program and activities.