Lack of housing an issue for seasonal ag workers, Senate committee told

Sen. Debbie Mayfield suggested a legal exemption allowing workforce housing on farm property.

When NIMBY meets agriculture, things can go sideways. So it is for municipalities and workforce housing for the men and women who work Florida’s fields. The topic became one discussed in the Senate Committee on Agriculture recently.

“When you’re talking about housing, where are you currently housing your employees?” asked Melbourne Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield to David Hill, owner of Southern Hill Farms and Chairman of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

Hill was presenting on the current state of the Florida fruit and vegetable industry. Labor is seasonal, so farms work with federal visa programs to bring in workers, for whom they have to find places to live. That’s not always so easy.

“We are looking to build some facilities, and we’re having a hard time with local ordinances,” Hill said. “What that’s forced us to do is find existing (housing). That’s tough to do, find 500 rooms somewhere that’s existing. We have an independent contractor that takes care of (that).”

The people who work Hill’s farm live in Dade City. 

“He has a facility there,” Hill said. “But our needs are far greater. We are growing — actually, we’re trying to grow, and we want to not be at anyone’s mercy.”

Mayfield asked if local ordinances prevented building housing on farm property.

“If you reclaim something that’s already built, like a hotel, something like that, then no one can say much,” Hill said. “It’s kind of grandfathered in. If you break ground and try to build something, all the local communities will stand up and go to hearings and fight you, because they don’t want that in there, close to their house.”  

The interest is putting some official language in law to allow such housing projects, though that could also be viewed through the lens of another attempt at municipal preemption.

Mayfield suggested a legal exemption allowing workforce housing on farm property.

“If it makes sense and we do everything for code … but yeah, that would be huge,” Hill said.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:


  • Matthew Lusk

    January 24, 2023 at 11:28 am

    OK, let’s get to the meat of it. The State has “I already got mine” laws on the books. What happened to property rights? They where consumed by the bureaucratic left across the Country in the 1970s. The bureaucracy loves the extra jobs on the payroll. Many of the bureaucrats are women who enjoy slinging the law at mere citizens, especially men. What is it with bitchy modern women.
    A farmer should be able to use the land as he sees fit, which includes housing. Also a young person who owns 5 acres should enjoy the same property rights, including a plywood shelter as a house. Thou Shalt not covet thy neighbor’s property. If you are worried about community property values, go buy in a country club commune somewhere.


  • D Fuller

    January 25, 2023 at 8:57 am

    If Senator Mayfield would look into all of the issues related to AG worker housing, she might not be so quick to suggest a blanket exemption for worker housing on AG properties.
    Plus, predominately local governments have zoning ordinances addressing such housing, in-place to protect all property owners.


  • Peter Buchsbaum

    January 25, 2023 at 3:07 pm

    This is not a liberal/conservative issue. Nor has it anything to do with big bureaucracies. It’s homeowners of whatever political stripe against change in small and suburban towns, not about big bad liberal city bureaucrats..


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