Mutual Housing at Spring Lake
Main objectives of the project
The estimated 6,000+ agricultural workers in the county have traditionally had to put up with some of the worst housing conditions and most dangerous jobs in the country. Seasonal employment means accommodation is usually only available at government-funded migrant centres during the farming season. Living in appalling conditions in privately rented housing is often the only other alternative for workers.
Mutual Housing’s work with residents goes well beyond providing energy efficient homes. Through a range of opportunities including leadership development schemes, peer lending circles and digital literacy classes, residents gain skills and confidence. For many this has opened up new opportunities in education and community life. New leaders have emerged from the community who now work to advocate for the rights of agricultural workers.
- Promotor: World Habitat
Country/Region: United States of America
Mutual Housing at Spring Lake is based in the city of Woodland in Yolo County, California. It is the first permanent, year-round housing built for agricultural worker families in the county, most of whom are of Hispanic heritage. Agricultural workers have traditionally suffered some of the worst housing conditions and most dangerous jobs in the country. A survey of agricultural workers in the region in 2010 showed that people reported living in garages with mould and cockroaches and often in overcrowded conditions. Many workers are employed only seasonally and some government-funded migrant centres provide accommodation at these times. However, most agricultural workers stay in the community all year.
This is the first 100 per cent Zero Net Energy rental housing development in the USA to be certified by the US Department of Energy. A Zero Net Energy building uses around the same amount of energy as it produces so is very sustainable and better for the environment than traditional housing. Environmentally sustainable homes are often only available to higher income homeowners. This project was developed specifically to cater for agricultural workers, a community which makes a huge contribution to an area where the economy is largely sustained by agriculture, but is not catered for by the local housing market. This development by Mutual Housing California promotes equality by enabling low-income families to rent a home with strong eco-features. Mutual Housing California is a non-profit housing developer and a member of the California Coalition for Rural Housing. It was established in 1988 as a partnership of neighbourhood residents, business representatives, housing advocates and local government to improve housing opportunities for lower income families. It now owns and operates 1,071 homes for over 3,200 residents in California, USA. Resident involvement and leadership are key aspects underpinning and driving all their work. Residents of Mutual Housing developments are supported from day one to identify and develop their own skills and capacity for leadership. They are supported with training and mentoring to take control of their own lives as well as to advocate for their fellow residents and the wider community. Mutual Housing California provides similar services in its other developments, which include providing affordable rented housing for Housing First and other low-income residents.
The work to help residents achieve ‘green living’ doesn’t just stop with environmental features. Residents at Spring Lake are also trained in how to use the energy efficient equipment installed in their homes and are involved in learning and sharing ideas on other ‘green behaviours’ such as recycling and water saving.
After overcoming obstacles to access a plot of land and establish its use for multi-family housing (see details in the Context section), in 2010 land was purchased and construction began in 2013. The housing was completed in March 2015 and was fully occupied by June of that year. All applicants for housing at Mutual Housing at Spring Lake had to demonstrate that they meet the established income limits for the housing and that they were or had been employed in agriculture. A total of 62 highly energy-efficient homes have been built in five buildings. The homes have between one and four bedrooms and house 196 people including 90 children. Out of these housing units, seven are for families that have incomes at 30 per cent of area median income (AMI) or below, 13 units are for families that have incomes at 40 per cent of AMI or below, 25 units are for families at 50 per cent of AMI or below, and 16 units are for families at 60 per cent AMI or below. One of the units is reserved for the manager.
Mutual Housing at Spring Lake has a very strong focus on community development and the empowerment of individuals. Community organising is a core activity – the project has really been about building a whole community, not just constructing houses. Residents are actively involved in education and training programmes and the development runs several different facilities and programmes for residents. Personal development opportunities delivered through one-to-one mentoring, group sessions and on-the-job training have included financial education and budget management, green issues, leadership development and health education. As well as learning opportunities residents are able to use the community building and an activity room for meetings and celebrations. They can enjoy outdoor recreation spaces, with shared gardens and green spaces throughout the site.
A Spanish-speaking community organiser has been appointed and they have an important role in developing the leadership potential of adults and young people. They help local people to form resident councils and committees to address any specific issues or to shape ideas and plans for community activities and events. In fact leadership development is a very strong focus within the wider work of Mutual Housing. One of their key aims is to create ‘lifelong leaders’ by supporting the personal development of adults and young people alike across a wide range of activities. Some of the residents have shown that they are particularly interested in sustainable living and they have formed a ‘Green Leaders’ team. This group helps educate fellow residents with activities like composting and understanding electricity bills with solar rebates.