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Migrant Housing Sprouts on Grower Land

Times Staff Writer

When they compare themselves to the thousands of their counterparts who work San Diego County’s agricultural fields by day and live in earthen dugouts and primitive encampments by night, the migrant laborers working for Harry Singh might soon be wondering if they’ve found a room at the Ritz.

Singh, whose family-run business has been growing tomatoes and strawberries in Bonsall for 47 years, is building employee housing for up to 328 of his full-time workers, at a cost of about $1.5 million.

The housing project, on Singh’s 350-acre ranch in the 30000 block of North River Road, is expected to be completed by April. It was first approved in April, 1988, and was unsuccessfully opposed by nearby residents who balked at the concept of on-site housing of migrant workers.

Singh said he was prompted to provide the housing because of the amnesty program and concern that he would lose some of his longtime workers to other jobs.

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Amnesty “has provided more options for agricultural workers, and many are opting for jobs outside of agriculture--jobs that are significantly less strenuous,” Singh said in a prepared statement. “Our employee housing program is one way to encourage them to stay on the farm.”

Singh said the decision by some employers to provide housing for their workers at remote locations is not unusual. “If I depended on the people who can afford to live in North San Diego County to harvest my produce,” he said, “I would be out of business immediately.”

The project features two two-story residential buildings, built largely of steel, each with 41 sleeping rooms with eight bunks each. Each worker will pay $16.50 a week, plus the cost of meals--ranging from $1.50 for breakfast to $2.80 for dinner.

The complex will also include a 268-seat dining room--with a 10-foot-wide television screen with satellite link; a kitchen with, among other appliances, a tortilla machine capable of producing 900 tortillas an hour; a recreation room; coin laundry machines, and bathroom and shower facilities throughout.

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Outside will be volleyball and basketball courts and a soccer field.

Singh said he will provide round-the-clock security and bus transportation for employees to nearby shopping and recreation.

“Many of my long-term employees are very excited,” Singh said. “Other employees are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Since they’ve never seen anything like what we’re planning, they don’t know what to expect.”

Resident camp manager will be Luis Figuero, former general manager of San Luis Rey Downs.

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Among the costs of the project, Singh said, are $236,000 in road improvements and $140,000 in water and sewer connection fees to the Rainbow Municipal Water District.


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