Migrant housing to get more inspections

Mar 18, 2013

Ninety-thousand migrant workers and their families travel to Michigan each year to pick the state's fruit and vegetable crops.

Most travel from Texas and Florida to get here.  That's a long way.

State officials say those workers often have a choice about where they'll work in the summer - and it doesn't have to be Michigan. 

So keeping migrant housing decent and safe is crucial.

For the past few years, the state has had only five employees to criss-cross the state, inspecting the 4,400 living units on the 850 or so work sites that employ and house migrant workers.

"So they [migrant housing inspectors] spent an awful lot of time on the road," says Mark Swarzt of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

In fact, there were only enough inspectors to do pre-season inspections.  During the summer, after people had moved in, inspections were rare.

Now, with some extra funding from the state - and new housing permit fees from the farms themselves, a source of revenue that began to be collected in 2010 - two new people will be hired.

That will mean summer inspections - and Swartz says summer is usually when occupant health risks develop.

"We wind up observing high-risk electrical issues, potentially failed septic systems, smoke alarms that don't work, fire extingushers that have been discharged, those sorts of things," he says.

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Labor played a bigger role in migrant housing inspections in the state, because the state's resources were stretched so thin.  Swartz says that role will likely be reduced now that Michigan is doing more of the work.