It’s another glorious day in Ventura County: The birds are singing, the children are playing, and hundreds of people are living in substandard housing in neighborhoods alongside some of the highest-priced homes in California.
But as long as we don’t see ’em, there isn’t a problem, right?
In speaking with some of Ventura’s real estate agents, it seems that the most important assets in Ventura are the views and property values. One real estate agent said it was fine that property values go up instead of building denser, taller affordable housing projects: “Our views are important, and it isn’t such a bad thing our property values go up.”
But what about our residents who work their tails off for minimum wage or less, add to our economy and yet can’t afford to live here?
With Ventura and Oxnard’s mild climate and proximity to the beach, who wouldn’t want to live here? But just because there is so much beauty that is worth so much doesn’t mean we should ignore the absolute necessity to accommodate migrant workers and low-income wage earners.
Because we pride ourselves on preserving the richness of this community, we are left with hundreds, if not thousands, of low-income people — singles and families, Caucasians and minorities alike — stuck with very limited options.
In an effort to pay the high-priced rents and even mortgages, landlords, homeowners and tenants are converting garages into bedrooms with faulty wiring, poor insulation and no bathrooms. In Oxnard, according to councilmember Tim Flynn, even storage sheds in backyards are being converted into studio apartments, similar to the barrios in some third world countries.
If that isn’t bad enough, one particular home had roughly 26 people living in it, and the residents were urinating in the alleyway because the line for the bathroom was simply too long.
Such living conditions can create major problems, including fires, plumbing back-ups, sickness and violence due to overcrowding and uncomfortable conditions.
Flynn also said estimated nearly 20,000 Oxnard residents live in substandard housing, based on the population versus the units occupied. In comparison, Ventura is jumpstarting a program to squash the substandard housing issue before it gets out of control like in Oxnard. Since July 2007, based on police calls regarding housing code violations, there have been 281 substandard housing violation cases identified. (Ventura’s studies did not indicate the number of residents.)
Complacency is overwhelming in Ventura and Oxnard when it comes to substandard housing — not in the fact it shouldn’t be dealt with, but the fact that if we had enough affordable housing units, substandard housing wouldn’t be such an issue.
And with a three-year waiting list to get into Section 8 housing, we are way behind. We need to focus on the root of the problem.
The general attitude is: If you can’t afford to live here, then move out. But it’s not that simple; there just isn’t anywhere to move to that would solve the problem. We can blame the residents for choosing to live that way, but really, what choice do they have? Where would they go? You just can’t truck people around looking for cheap housing and well-paying jobs.
These residents who contribute their time and energy to our community deserve better. They dedicate their time to labor-intensive jobs, and how do we reward them? With low-paying jobs and high rent so they can barely afford to take care of themselves or their families. And now we are charging them fees for housing violations. This is certainly a Catch-22: These residents can’t win no matter what they do.
Even though part of Oxnard’s problem is the overflow of workers who come from Ventura to live in Oxnard because rent is cheaper there, Flynn said that Ventura has not worked cooperatively with Oxnard or other high minority cities like Fillmore or Santa Paula, nor has any other city in the county. Although Ventura has its own problems to deal with Flynn didn’t seem to think each city working separately would get the job done.
Taking the blame from one city and placing it on another simply won’t resolve the issue. Conquering the substandard violations will not rid the cities of high rents. But Flynn did have a pretty good suggestion: a countywide effort of all cities putting their hands in to build affordable housing.
It all boils down to affordable housing. We can ship illegal immigrants out of town, we can charge fees for violations and we can even ignore the problem until it gets so bad we make national news about poor living conditions in Ventura County.
But none of these are humane solutions.
We need to urge planning and city officials to look at housing plans coming down the pipeline and see how we can start building more affordable housing for these hard-working individuals. We need to call our reps at the local and state Housing
Authority to see what funding is available for affordable housing programs and really focus on new construction. Being at the bottom of the housing market, interest rates are low and development would be invaluable. Most of all, we need to talk to our landlords and homeowners about getting these units up to par. This is a huge problem, and we all have to do our part.