Let's not create a permanent renter class in Ventura

06/20/2013

 

It’s a frustrating circumstance when certain leaders of a city seem to completely disregard a segment of its population: those who make just less than $50,000 annually.


For the regular Ventura City Council meeting on Monday night, June 17, there was an item on the agenda that would have begun the process of eliminating the inclusionary housing ordinance, a 2006 city policy that requires developers to set aside up to 15 percent of any for-sale residential units for moderate- and low-income earners. A different downtown-specific ordinance also applies to rental projects. It was pulled from the agenda, much to the approval of affordable housing supporters. Councilman Brian Brennan had asked to postpone until he could join the discussion — he was out of town on Monday.


The fact of the matter is, very low income and lower income for Ventura County is between $30,600 and $48,950, according to the fiscal 2013 income limits published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The median income for the city of Ventura is $62,600, according to the city housing authority. That means half of the city earns less than the median income and therefore roughly 40 percent of Ventura’s population earns what would be considered lower or very low income. And somehow, certain members of the Ventura City Council and city staff defaulted to eliminating such an important tool that would allow those people to buy a home, the inclusionary housing ordinance that  requires developers to build affordable, low-income housing.


The inclusionary housing ordinance is currently under review as some city officials have heard from developers that the ordinance creates a burden on projects and their profitability. The city, however, has other requirements for developers (such as parking standards and parks and recreational areas) that also serve as restraints and interfere with profitability. Why are certain members of the City Council only focused on the inclusionary housing ordinance?


Statewide, these inclusionary housing policies have created nearly 30,000 units for low-income renters and buyers since 1999. Though the passage of Ventura’s ordinance was well-intentioned in 2006, these inclusionary housing units haven’t yet materialized in Ventura as envisioned due to the real economic crash in 2008. With the housing prices increasing by 18 percent in Ventura County in the last year, surely, these developments will come to fruition, bringing with them their share of affordable housing units.


It seems the big concerns at City Hall regarding the inclusionary housing ordinance are: 1. The kind of people who are considered lower to very low income; and 2. driving developers away.


When it comes to lower to very low income people, we need to see the forest through the trees. These aren’t necessarily people living off the government dole, desperate for handouts. These aren’t just people who don’t appear to have bigger dreams and ambitions. These people are fitness trainers and hair stylists. They are small-business owners and mid-level managers. They are service workers and artists. These people are vital to a thriving and growing community. These people should not be cut out of the picture.


Furthermore, there was an argument made by Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert for the benefit of developers, saying, “If developers are not building because of this burden, (supporters) are not getting what they want anyway.” We can slightly understand this point of view — developers want more bang for their buck and may go elsewhere if that isn’t happening, leaving housing stock low. But the fact remains, Southern California real estate is being gobbled up at a rapid rate and, with the upswing in the market, developers aren’t going to have much of a choice of where they can develop and what constraints will push them away. Additionally, 170 cities in California have inclusionary housing ordinances. Why should Ventura’s City Council open the floodgates to developers while ignoring the need for affordable housing for so many residents of their own city?


The most shameful part of this whole situation is the lack of public engagement. While we understand that most residents aren’t paying attention to City Council agendas, perhaps council members should make it their  top priority to inform the public that it plans to shut down the opportunity to buy homes for so many of those who voted them into office. The City Council plans to revisit the issue on July 15. Between now and then, we sincerely hope the Council will hold a public forum to engage and inform the public about inclusionary housing and what it means for the city of Ventura to be with or without it.                                                                                             

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