CRLA Joins Forces With Eastern Coachella Valley Communities to Tackle Systematic Housing Inequities

On edge of a desert paradise, Coachella farm workers live in putrid conditions

Farmworkers housing conditions in Coachella Valley, California.  Photo by David Bacon.

Farmworkers housing conditions in Coachella Valley, California. Photo by David Bacon.

THERMAL, Calif. - At one end of Avenue 54, a road slicing through some of the most fertile land in the United States, resides the California of the popular imagination: a place of Bermuda shorts, putting greens and picture-window champagne dinners overlooking the infinity pool.

But there is another Avenue 54 concealed behind tumbleweeds and dust. It is the 54 of arsenic-tainted water, frequent blackouts and raw sewage that backs up into the shower. It is a place of grim housekeeping, where the residents of the Eastern Coachella Valley's roughly 125 illegal mobile home parks struggle to make 720 square feet of deteriorating metal and plywood a safe and habitable home.

Even the names of unincorporated communities here - Mecca, Oasis - evoke Biblical lands, befitting the manmade plagues that beset the region. This desert valley, about 130 miles southeast of Los Angeles, is one of the country's richest agricultural areas, an irrigation-fed bounty of table grapes, bell peppers, seedless watermelons and most of the country's dates. Island-paradise palms spring mirage-like from the hot, arid soil.

This Coachella, unvisited by hipsters who attend a yearly music festival in the valley, is one of the poorest, densest areas of the United States - especially during grape season, when an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 migrant workers pour into the area.

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