It isn’t news to anyone that affording a home in Ventura County is not an easy task. The fallout from the sub-prime home loan fiasco might mean now is not a great time to buy a home, but it also serves as a reminder that countless home buyers took desperate, risky measures just to house themselves and their families. Despite the softening of the market, however, it isn’t getting considerably easier to afford a home.
So, on its surface, the 6th Annual Ventura County Housing Conference appeared to hold some promise. Held Sept. 12, the conference was an all day affair that brought together public officials, economic observers, realtors, bankers and developers to address the lack of affordable housing in Ventura County. Unfortunately, the #Reporter# was unable to attend the event in person, as it took place the same day this edition of our paper went to press.
Fortunately, Matthew Singer took time to contact participants in the conference so we could present information reported at the conference in a timely manner (See “Look who’s not talking” on page 9). In a county where the median home price is nearly $600,000, any market softening is relative, and the sort of collaboration happening at the conference may help find answers for the affordability problem.
But any promise offered by the conference is considerably weakened by the organizers’ failure to include neighborhood representatives in a panel discussion on the controversial Jones Ranch project, a proposed development that would annex to Oxnard 165 acres of land north of El Rio for 2,500 affordable housing units.
As Singer reports, Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn, who represents the affected area, is frustrated that he was left off of the panel and that he didn’t learn about the conference until a week before the event.
Flynn’s concerns are valid. In recent years, he has been increasingly characterized as a rabble rouser and a troublemaker on the board of supervisors, as someone too stubborn to cooperate with his fellow board members. Regardless of Flynn’s public persona, however, he has been repeatedly elected to represent thousands of county residents, many of whom face proposals similar to Jones Ranch. For constituents in El Rio and other unincorporated areas of the county, Flynn is their only voice in local government.
Like Flynn points out in Singer’s article, the problem isn’t that he was excluded. The problem is that the community that could be most directly affected by Jones Ranch was not represented on the panel. Conference organizers should regret their decision not to invite a representative of the El Rio Del Norte Municipal Advisory Council to offer their perspective on the project. Without bringing in those directly affected, a “creative solution” will not be either.
Conference co-chair Brad Golden told Singer that there was not political thought involved in selecting panelists, and that its design doesn’t represent a position one way or the other on the project.
Was it really a conflict of interest organizers were trying to avoid when excluding Flynn, or a conflict? Golden may not want to hear it, but conflicts exist in this world, particularly when there are proposals to build 2,500 homes in semi-rural areas. His justification does not stand up. How does Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden’s inclusion on the panel not represent such a conflict? Could it have been that Golden and his colleagues just don’t approve of Flynn’s style? If so, again, they could have invited another community representative.
Perhaps one explanation can be found looking at the organization behind the conference. According to its Web site at www.vchome.org, Housing Opportunities Made Easier advocates for greater housing availability and affordability with an emphasis on workforce housing. A noble goal, perhaps, but when we discuss the possibility of conflicts of interest it is worth noting that four of its five executive committee members, including Golden, represent the real estate industry. The fifth, Bill Buratto, is the president and vice president of the Ventura County Economic Development Association.
Nothing is wrong with representing realtors or economic development at a housing conference; both voices are necessary elements of the discussion. Moreover, among the conference co-hosts were civic groups and organizations that have shown their commitment to improving workforce housing in the past (there were also other business organizations). But what is wrong is the community at the heart of a featured panel discussion did not have equal footing with those organizations.