“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense
Around a decade ago, the Central Valley housing market had taken a turn for the worse. After several years of investors pillaging cheap home investments, often buying up several at a time, doing little or nothing to improve them and then flipping them in a few months’ time, to the profit of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, these investors saw the writing on the wall, that there was a limit to how much they could take from the local economy. They then fled with their bank accounts full. This was also at a time when predatory subprime lending was hot, set in motion years earlier by then-President Bill Clinton, and anyone and everyone could get a loan to buy a home by simply claiming an income. Then the balloon payments came and the borrowers fell short, their homes ending up in foreclosure. To worsen this, new home construction had hit its peak, given the artificial inflation of the market; but when reality set in, new home construction stopped and many lost their jobs.
This series of events caused devastation to those living, residing and owning homes in the region. Out of this came the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act and lessons on the critical role that the housing market plays in any particular local economy. Flash-forward to 2017 and to Ventura County, which has its own substantial housing crisis. While the problems aren’t the same as what happened in the Central Valley, we are in a full-fledged housing emergency, as is all of California.
“One in three renters in California pays more than half their income to their landlord, crimping budgets for other essentials and leaving too many residents one unexpected expense away from homelessness,” “A housing law with no teeth,” July 9, editorial, L.A. Times, addressing the affordable housing law, known as fair-share plans or housing elements enacted in 1967, which lacks accountability by failing to require that cities actually do the building. Local economists and affordable housing advocates agree that, when it comes to Ventura County, without adequate affordable housing options, big companies that pay fairly well simply depart for places that do have the desired housing, citing Amgen’s downsizing, and so do their employees. Meanwhile lower-income individuals are strangled by higher housing costs that take up more disposable income that might otherwise be spent in the local economy, and so on. Investors in the area also buy up the limited for-sale housing, turning it into rentals and altering both the for-sale and rental markets, often for the worse for those who only want to live, work and care for their families here. Further, with local elected officials on city councils and longtime residents often averse to dense housing projects, housings costs worsen as new residential construction remains limited. There are also objections to housing projects, from building on the hillsides to the harbors to farmland and along the 101.
While the county is probably seeing more construction now than in the last five-10 years, including off Las Posas in Camarillo, the triangle site off Oxnard Boulevard and across Ventura Harbor, it hasn’t kept pace with the county’s own inherent growth, as children grow to adults. It’s common to hear older adults saying that their children can’t afford to live here and/or can’t find a good paying job that might accommodate the higher housing costs. To compound the problem, those who bought their homes before 2010, and especially before 2005, have said that they pay less for their mortgages than what current renters pay. And so Ventura County perpetuates a dire situation, belittling the American Dream for the average person to take part in homeownership and our capitalist society, save for children’s college or for eventual retirement. It’s a very real mess and those who got theirs years ago don’t want to be bothered with certain truths. But it’s going to hit everyone, plus our economy, in Ventura County like a tidal wave if we do nothing. In fact, in some ways, that wave has already hit.
The solution: We must not fear change but instead learn from the Central Valley housing crisis and the onset of our own, as combustible housing markets have lasting impacts. Residential construction, especially dense housing, is a must and we have to learn to adjust to the idea that Ventura County is growing. And always has been.