Image: City of West Kelowna

West Kelowna council hopes to improve farm worker housing

Council has passed a bylaw amendment to set new rules for temporary agricultural worker housing

West Kelowna council has passed a controversial bylaw amendment for temporary agricultural worker dwellings.

The bylaw amendment that focuses on improving the conditions that temporary workers live in, was drafted after a female farm worker, believed to be high on drugs, pushed her way into a woman’s Scharf Road home and was later apprehended by police hiding in a shed on the property.

Related: West Kelowna acting on squalid farm worker conditions

A letter and pictures were also submitted by another neighbour describing the “deplorable” living conditions the workers are subjected to and it was discovered one farmer was providing a garden hose as a shower.

Council is concerned because the bylaw amendment will not be enforced by a separate body to hold farmers accountable. The bylaw will also not be imposed on farmers that already have recreational vehicles and tents in place to house their workers because they are pre-existing to the change.

Related: UPDATED: Temporary ‘slums’ discussed in West Kelowna

“This is far from perfect but we have to be cautious to make it work so that the good people (farmers) can continue to operate in a proper manner. We cannot be driven by people that do not, or might abuse bylaws,” Coun. Duane Ophus said. “We cannot let the pursuit of perfection stop us from moving forward in the best manner.”

The bylaw will limit the number of tents farmers are allowed to have at one time on their property for the picking seasons during an eight-month time period and enforces proper bathroom and shower facilities. Fines will be raised from $500 to $1,000 for farmers that do not comply with the new bylaw.

Related:West Kelowna wants public input on farm worker housing

“I regard this overall as a step forward in this bylaw,” Mayor Doug Findlater said. “People have been coming into West Kelowna and pitching their tents to work in the farms for decades. They move up and down the valley with picking seasons. It would be a significant hit to farmers to require permanent homes (in lieu of tents) for very short periods of times — agriculture is a big part of this community — I support it because we need to put something in place.”

Council plans on working towards finding a way to construct another bylaw to intervene with non-conforming farmers with pre-existing structures that are an infraction to the bylaw.

“We have exhausted staff time and money getting to this stage we cannot not pass it but it needs improvement — and bylaw enforcement,” Coun. Rusty Ensign said.

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