Please donate to support publication of the
Inland FoodWise Online Journal


FoodWise Action Alert: Expand Options for Farm and Farmworker Housing in WA!

Chrys Ostrander

Picture of Tiny House Community

A bill just passed in the WA Senate legalizing “Tiny Houses” and “Tiny House Communities.” It was introduced by Republican State Senator Hans Zeiger, 25th District (Puyallup).

See March 19 Update

Find Your Legislators:

We can make it a better bill if we expand it to include temporary and permanent farmworker housing.

Here’s the bill’s tiny house definition:

“Tiny house” and “tiny house with wheels” means a dwelling to be used as permanent housing with permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation built in accordance with the 2018 International Resident Code Appendix Q.

Appendix Q relaxes various requirements in the body of the code as they apply to houses that are 400 square feet in area or less. Attention is specifically paid to features such as compact stairs, including stair handrails and headroom, ladders, reduced ceiling heights in /offs and guard and emergency escape and rescue opening requirements at lofts.

A lot of real-estate and planning jargon has been added to the bill since it was first introduced which I get pretty lost in. Generally I think I favor the concept of having legal provisions that can assist folks in downsizing their lifestyles while making housing more accessible to those of minimal means. That said, I think all housing should be sited in such a way that it doesn’t spoil natural resources or convert arable land.

But my interest in this really stems from my firm belief that one path towards a future where we have a re-localized food system is to make provisions for working farms to be able to provide adequate housing, seasonal or year-round, for the people who are directly involved in farming and their families.

Currently, Washington has a program that’s administered by the State Department of Health for temporary/seasonal farmworker housing. The Health Dept. can issue building permits that supersede county zoning rules (except setback, bldg. height and road access). In other words, temporary farmworker housing can be built in excess of, say, the one dwelling per 10-acre ag-zoned property limitation which is in place for much of the zoned agricultural lands in Spokane County. There are a lot of regulations that a farm must adhere to when it opts to build housing under this program. Those regulations are there primarily to protect health and safety of the farmworker residents of the seasonal housing. I would like to see an educational program put together by someone (Tilth? Health Dept?) to assist small-scale farmers in understanding the temporary housing program better and assisting in implementing it for farms that desire to go that route. Note that my understanding is that temporary housing means housing that’s lived in for no more than 9 consecutive months.

Office of Rural & Farmworker Housing

In light of the fact that food system relocalization is a priority for combating climate change as well as for improving food security, public health and the regional economy, as well as the fact that many families with a history of seasonal farmwork have attained the financial ability to purchase their own farms, I also suggest adjusting the current concept of farmworker housing to include permanent farmworker housing and using the Tiny House Bill as a vehicle to codify such a modification. For example, a ten-acre working farm with one main dwelling and several small dwellings where farmworkers (could be partners, employees, a co-op or collective, non-profit, etc.) live and farm year-round has, in some cases, much greater chance of being economically viable than without the extra live-in labor. It’s going to be a long time before small-scale local food production for local consumption pays well enough for most farmworkers to be able to afford off-site housing and the expenses of commuting to work on a farm. Plus, who’s going to be on-site when the sprinklers need to go on at 3am to avoid frost damage or the nanny goat needs assistance kidding or to pull snow off the hoophouse?

I wonder if the tiny house bills could be amended, in committee or on the floor this session. Or could we organize a push to modify them next year to make provisions for permanent farmworker housing blending the concepts in the Health Dept. program and the Tiny House bill, if it passes.

How about having the Tiny House bill also amend certain sections of the Temporary Worker Housing Law, Chapter 70.114A RCW as indicated in the PDF linked to below. Note: While the law we would seek to amend has the word “temporary” in its title, its preamble reads “The legislature finds that there is an inadequate supply of temporary and *permanent* [emphasis mine] housing for migrant and seasonal workers in this state. The legislature also finds that unclear, complex regulations related to the development, construction, and permitting of worker housing inhibit the development of this much needed housing."

If you like the ideas expressed here, contact your Washington state legislators and let them know. Find Your Legislators:


The Tiny House Working Farm Amendment to SB 5383
Proposed Amendments (note use of strikeout and underline):


Housing on rural worksites. [rural is not defined]

(1) Temporary worker housing located on a rural worksite, and used for workers employed on the worksite, shall be considered a permitted use at the rural worksite for the purposes of zoning or other land use review processes, subject only to height, setback, and road access requirements of the underlying zone.


(2) Permanent (Year-round) worker housing located on a worksite that also meets the definition of Farm and Agricultural Land as provided for in RCW84.34.020, and used for workers employed on the worksite, shall be considered a permitted use at the worksite for the purposes of zoning or other land use review processes, subject only to height, setback, and road access requirements of the underlying zone.


Licensing, operation, and inspection—Rules.

The department and the department of labor and industries shall adopt joint rules for the licensing, operation, and inspection of temporary and permanent worker housing, and the enforcement thereof. These rules shall establish standards that are as effective as the standards developed under the Washington industrial safety and health act, chapter49.17 RCW.


Temporary and permanent worker building code—Rules—Guidelines—Exceptions—Enforcement—Variations.

(1) The department shall adopt by rule a temporary worker building code in conformance with the temporary worker housing standards developed under the Washington industrial safety and health act, chapter 49.17 RCW, and the following guidelines:

(a) The temporary worker building code shall provide construction standards for shelter and associated facilities that are safe, secure, and capable of withstanding the stresses and loads associated with their designated use, and to which they are likely to be subjected by the elements;

(b) The temporary worker building code shall permit and facilitate designs and formats that allow for maximum affordability, consistent with the provision of decent, safe, and sanitary housing;

(c) In developing the temporary worker building code the department of health shall consider:

(i) The need for dormitory type housing for groups of unrelated individuals; and

(ii) The need for housing to accommodate families;

(d) The temporary worker building code shall incorporate the opportunity for the use of construction alternatives and the use of new technologies that meet the performance standards required by law;

(e) The temporary worker building code shall include standards for heating and insulation appropriate to the type of structure and length and season of occupancy;

(f) The temporary worker building code shall include standards for temporary worker housing that are to be used only during periods when no auxiliary heat is required; and

(g) The temporary worker building code shall provide that persons operating temporary worker housing consisting of four or fewer dwelling units or combinations of dwelling units, dormitories, or spaces that house nine or fewer occupants may elect to comply with the provisions of the temporary worker building code, and that unless the election is made, such housing is subject to the codes adopted under RCW 19.27.031.

(2) In adopting the temporary worker building code, the department shall make exceptions to the codes listed in RCW 19.27.031 and chapter 19.27A RCW, in keeping with the guidelines set forth in this section. The initial temporary worker building code adopted by the department shall be substantially equivalent with the temporary worker building code developed by the state building code council as directed by section 8, chapter 220, Laws of 1995.

(3) "Tiny houses" and "tiny houses with wheels" built in accordance with the 2018 International Resident Code Appendix Q shall be allowed.

(4) The provisions of this section, so much as they are applicable, shall also apply to permanent worker housing as provided for in 70.114A.050(2).

(4)(5) The temporary and permanent worker building code authorized and required by this section shall be enforced by the department.

The department shall have the authority to allow minor variations from the temporary and permanent worker building code that do not compromise the health or safety of workers. Procedures for requesting variations and guidelines for granting such requests shall be included in the rules adopted under this section.

March 19 Update

A while back I circulated an idea I had about how to take a step to 'Expand Options for Farm and Farmworker Housing in WA'. I saw an opportunity to in the wording of a bill (SB 5383) that has been passed out of the Washington State Senate and is now under consideration in the House. This bill seeks to legalize "Tiny Homes" and "Tiny Home Communities." In my entreaty I said "I firmly believe that one path towards a future where we have a re-localized food system is to make provisions for working farms to be able to provide adequate housing, seasonal or year-round, for the people who are directly involved in farming and their families."  Local zoning precludes this. My proposal would override local zoning for "working farms."

This could be accomplished with a few 'tiny' changes to Washington's existing farmworker housing law. These changes could be attached to the 'Tiny Homes' bill as an amendment in committee or during the floor vote debate, if there's enough support. The amendment I am proposing can be read here:

I haven't had what I'd call a rousing response from the small farm/sustainable-regenerative ag community/young farmers/etc. I'm not really sure what to do. I have tried to interest the small farm/sustainable ag community in this but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I'm not sure why except that my suggestion came late in the game from out of the blue. In the old days, when there was a bill supported by this community, we could either help it pass or hinder its passage if it wasn't amended to our liking and then help it pass. I haven't seen Washington's sustainable ag community unify around legislation like that for a while. The lack of a state-wide sustainable ag policy advocacy organization contributes to this disempowering situation. I'll save that rant for another day.

The Tiny Homes bill is scheduled for executive session in the House Committee on Local Government at 10:00 AM on March 22 (Subject to change).

So, for now, if you agree it's time to allow small farms to permanently house the farmers and farmworkers they need to be economically viable, contact Gerry Pollet, Chair, House Committee on Local Government,, (360) 786-7886. Or, if you are in the district of any of the other committee members (see list below), contact them. Ask them to add the "Tiny House Working Farms" amendment to bill SB 5383 and send them the link to the posposal:


More info:

I've only rec'd two responses via email to email messages I sent, but quite a few "likes" on FB where I shared it widely (99 likes, 24 comments- none against it, 100 shares) No way to know how many of those folks actually contacted their legislators.


I'm going to try and interest the ag community again by sending out this update. I think 10-acre zoned ag parcels could be tiny small farm communities and larger-acreage small farms could benefit too. I guess this bill without my suggested amendment is good too. It makes GMA supporters nervous, but I believe allowing Americans to choose to downsize increases affordability and access to secure housing. I also believe that to ensure that regions have greater local food security, sometimes, as has been done historically (e.g. "Farm-exempt" license plates) the farming sector requires special legislative carve-outs that other economic sectors are not afforded, hence my suggested amendment.


House Committee on Local Government  

Pollet, Gerry, Chair, (D) Northeast Seattle
32C Legislative Building, (360) 786-7886


Peterson, Strom, Vice Chair, (D) Edmonds
324 John L. O'Brien Building, (360) 786-7950

Kraft, Vicki (R) Brush Prairie
Ranking Minority Member, 436 John L. O'Brien Building, (360) 786-7994

Griffey, Dan (R) Shelton
Assistant Ranking Minority Member, 403 John L. O'Brien Building, (360) 786-7966

Appleton, Sherry (D) Poulsbo
132F Legislative Building, (360) 786-7934

Goehner, Keith (R) Chelan
122C Legislative Building, (360) 786-7954

Senn, Tana (D) Redmond
368 John L. O'Brien Building, (360) 786-7894


One email response I got to my message:


Howdy from SW WA. I’m a retired oyster farmer, now raising goats and trees in the Willapa Valley. I met you some years ago at a Tilth conference.

Just a note of thanks for your research and suggestions on the Temporary Worker housing bill. We host WOOFers, support relocalization of the food system, and provide several cabins for workers. The proposed bill could be a good vehicle to further small farms and local food production. Keep up the good work.

You may know the deadline for bills is next week, March 13. There are several thousand bills in the pipeline, only a fraction will make it to the Floor for a vote. 


Another email:


thank you, i share your views

however, on the tiny houses, that's great, but if i were a farm worker i would be glad to accept a private room in a larger dwelling structure, and i think that sharing bathrooms is not unimaginable.  also, communal kitchens, laundry, computer

i think that u.s. americans generally demand too much

and have lost our ability to share and cooperate and compromise

but guest workers bring those skills with them

it is just that they have so often been subjected to conditions more suitable to dogs


To which I would point out that there are rules in place governing how the temporary worker law is implemented to safeguard living conditions (it's raison d'être, if you will).


Facebook comments:

This is exciting. Like Im taking deep breaths of contemplation. Our time has come today.  

 I read about this tiny-home village for chronically homeless persons near Austin, TX:

The article I read pointed out that the residents had a community garden and distributed more than 500,000 lbs. of surplus produce from their garden to community food banks.

It's really the home-builders' and real estate agents' lobbies that are responsible for the strict zoning that requires that tiny homes be on foundations, but times are changing!


My neighborhood used to have lots of tiny houses built over a century ago (resident of Peaceful Valley in Spokane who also included this link:


Back when we had small farms and rural prosperity (quite awhile ago) the small farmers and their kids traded labor and worked for cash for the bigger farms. They were used to the work. It never seems to work to hire town folks or other non-farmers for farm labor. These days, rural areas are filling with retirees and other refugees from the cities if they are close enough to an urban area. If they're not they are emptying out, many counties are below the population density statehood required. So this is a good step for farm labor as we relocalize our fragile industrial ag system. Will need better access to rail shipments to markets for those areas further from cities too.


It would be nice to include elderly parents and/or family members within the first degree of consanguinity.



Action Alert March, 2019