For nearly two years, the city of Ventura has come under fire because of its proactive code enforcement policy. It was implemented as a way to protect residents from unsafe housing conditions, such as new construction and additions done without permits. The problem, however, was that it seemed to be less about safe housing and more about menial code issues. Understandably, many residents became frustrated, and even angry about such an endeavor as city staff would go on apparent missions to find homes that weren’t in compliance with current housing codes. Stories about crackdowns on houses with garages converted into art studios and other similar living spaces, granny flats with decades-long tenants and renovations from mid-century began circulating around the community. Homeowners struggled to find the thousands of dollars to come into compliance or face fines, property liens and the threat of foreclosures.
Tensions had been building about what was to come last Monday night, when the city staff, City Council and concerned residents were to discuss and enact reasonable housing code policies. Prior to the meeting, city staff had proposed some new, tough regulations and programs that had property owners and real estate professionals up in arms. They included notarized resale inspection reports, the creation of a citywide database of all four-unit or smaller rentals that would help protect tenants from substandard housing, and landlords from tenants abusing their properties, and the creation of a pilot program by which volunteers would help document and enforce lower-priority violations.
On Monday night, dozens of people spoke on the subject of code enforcement, many expressing their grievances about coming into compliance. Just after midnight, after hours of discussion and public feedback, the City Council made some decisions, the most important of which being the legalization of granny flats if such properties pass basic fire and safety inspections by Dec. 31, 2012. Though proactive code enforcement was not discussed, Cole said that the city currently lacks the resources to do it. Other proposed programs, such as the resale inspection reports and a tenant relocation ordinance, were tabled until further notice.
In April 2009, we took a stance about Ventura’s code enforcement policies, saying it was headed in the right direction. That came on the heels of two major housing code violations in the city that involved 18 people living in a small house and another person who had been renting a metal shack in the backyard of a house. These problems were egregious and could potentially have led to dire consequences for the residents. Now, two years later, we still feel the city is on the right track, but that is due to its collaboration with various outspoken citizens and their hard work, incorporating suggestions from the Ventura Safe Housing Collaborative, all of whom are trying to create fair and reasonable policies that result in safe housing for the residents of Ventura.
As we continue to delve into this issue, we hope that our city’s homeless are also given as much consideration. As covered in our news story on page 6, safe housing issues extend beyond brick and mortar. We look forward to continued progressive teamwork in the future.