Farmers Migrant Housing Plan Leads to Lawsuit

From UpNorthLive.com, Kate Fox, 9 Apr 2012.

BENZIE COUNTY [MI] — A farmers plans to improve housing for his migrant workers in Benzie County has sparked a lawsuit and charges of racism. Loy Putney, a fruit grower in Benzie County wants to reuse a vacant motel in Village of Elberta and transform it into new living space for his workers. But Village council members are denying his requests.

Putney and his family have been growing fruit in Benzie County for more than 150 years and like most farmers, they depend on migrant workers year-round, to get all the work done.

These workers need somewhere to stay but Putney says his current housing units are falling apart. So three weeks ago, he bought the old Bay View Motel, a vacant building, which has sat empty in the village of Elberta for 4 years.

His plan was to convert the units into housing for his workers. But before any work could be done, Putney says village officials told him he needed a special use permit — but when he filed for the permit, he was denied.

Village of Elberta council members refused to talk to 7&4 News about this story, but Putney says they told him that the special use permit was denied because it defines transient housing as being open to the public, not migrant workers.

In a recent meeting, Putney says one village official took things too far and made a comment that shocked him.

Putney says, “He said we’re not going to allow rhubarb in this town, whatever that is and we’re not going to allow a trash house in this town. I just could hardly believe it. I feel it is very racist, it’s hard to believe the situation that has developed here, but it is what it is, were just trying to work through it…”

After this comment, Putney hired an attorney to represent him and filed a lawsuit against the Village.

Putney also requested an investigation by the Michigan Civil Rights Department against the Village of Elberta – which is currently underway.

Source and video report: UpNorthLive.com, “Farmers migrant housing plan leads to lawsuit” by Kate Fox, 9 Apr 2012.


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