Grant will fund home improvements

Here in San Mateo County, it’s no secret that many farmworker families live in housing that’s leaky, vermin-infested and unsafe. Trailers with holes in the walls. Overcrowded communal barracks with families of four wedged into a single bedroom.

Less well known is the fact that “substandard housing,” in official parlance, can lead directly to a host of chronic health conditions, like asthma. Cockroaches, rodents, mold and dust mites are all major asthma triggers, not to mention the presence of pesticides. That may help explain why a disproportionate number of Latinos living in rural California have been diagnosed with asthma.

Puente will take a small bite out of the problem thanks to a recent “Healthy Homes” grant from Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley obtained the $10,000 grant. “It’s to support the men and women who labor in our fields, to make their lives better,” he says.

In soliciting the funding, Horsley stated that “most of the housing farmworkers live in is subpar.”

The money, to be disbursed by Puente, will fund basic home improvements like dust mite-free mattress covers, dehumidifiers to counter the mold, insect traps and quick-fix expanding foam to fill holes and keep the vermin out.

Puente will also provide crucial supplies like smoke detectors, first aid kits, child-safe outlet plugs, dust mops and biodegradable cleaning products.

Karen Hackett, a San Mateo County Public Health Nurse who works with Puente, calls the grant “an important beginning.”

But she says the community needs more resources to address the underlying problems.

“We need to start talking about better housing, renovating and replacing housing structures that are deterioriating,” she says.

Hackett has witnessed the health effects of the farm labor lifestyle – the eczema and hand rashes from chemicals and harsh detergents; eye damage from spending days in field dust and fertilizers.

She’s seen how trash piles up next to housing because Pescadero has no pick-up service. The garbage breeds vermin and bacteria, and people end up living in close proximity to trash.

Other hazards lurk in farmworker housing. The Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at UC Berkeley has found a troubling link between pesticides in house dust and the health of children living on poor-quality farm labor housing in Salinas.

For more information, contact Puente Executive Director Kerry Lobel at or (650) 879-1691 x144.

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