The Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in recorded California history, made Ventura County a focal point of a dual crisis, the affordable housing shortage and severe drought. It’s a perfect storm of uncertainty as far as knowing the proper way to proceed but ignorance, indifference and fearmongering should not be options though they seem to be paths many choose to follow.
Trying to discuss solutions for the affordable housing shortage while addressing our waning water supply is an arduous task at best, but the reality is that adding housing has proven not to impact our water supply much, if planned and built carefully. In 2015, a peak time of concern over California’s ongoing drought, Ventura City Council members were weighing a new building moratorium. In an investigative story, “It’s a numbers game,” the VCReporter found that despite adding new housing units and commercial buildings to the inventory over 15 years water consumption from 2000 to 2014 increased by roughly 2 percent to 5 percent, from 17,350 to 17,780 acre feet, even with a spike up to 20,800 in 2005. With such little real growth in Ventura, plus an ongoing call for conservation, it seems doubtful there has been significant change in usage since then. With little rain over the last year for the region, climate scientists are remaining firm that our drought woes are ongoing and that conservation is an absolute necessity in all arenas of usage. But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing to address the housing crisis.
Ventura County was in an official recession in 2016, as predicted by the experts of California Lutheran University, Center for Economic Research and Forecasting. They have also predicted it to last into 2018. The main issue: housing costs.
Before the fire, lower- to middle-income earners stuck in the rental market knew and were personally experiencing the affordable housing shortage. Now, a wide range of people are feeling it firsthand, in search of long-term rentals as the process to rebuild moves at a sluggish pace, given the hundreds of houses that need to be rebuilt. Those who were renting and lost their homes in the fire are having an even more difficult experience if they did not have renters’ insurance. But the impacts of the fire go beyond just those who lost their housing. We have heard stories of landlords moving out tenants so that they can move in while their houses are being rebuilt, which leaves those particular renters in dire straits and with few options. The affordable housing crisis is real and its impacts are exponential. There is some good news, however.
Camarillo officials seem to be taking a surprising lead in addressing the housing crisis. Even though the City Council did reject a master-planned community to be built on farmland at the bottom of the Conejo Grade, it’s clear to see that the Council and the Camarillo Planning Commission are interested in growth of their city, from the construction off Highway 101 to the recent approval by the commission of a 281-unit housing development.
Let’s face the facts: If we run out of water, it won’t be solely because of new developments. We are all walking a fine line to preserve our lives here regardless of whether anything gets built or not. We might as well be mindful of growth and water usage without worrying so much about attracting people to the area. The CLU Center for Economic Research has already relayed that Ventura County has had net negative migration for 14 years. And with the cost of housing, surely, it’s not going to change soon. New construction should be seen as a way to simply address the housing needs of people who live and work here currently, not as some scary reality where Ventura County loses its appeal because we have too many houses; we already have major restrictions due to SOAR. We should, however, be concerned that our neighbors and friends can’t afford much more than their rent, which has far-reaching negative economic impacts.
There is no doubt that many are in a precarious situation, uncertainty causing major roadblocks to our progress and unifying us as a diverse community. It is time to get past our own individual needs and wants and see that ignoring the needs of others is a hindrance to all. We just have to be smart about how we grow and conserve so that our kids have a chance to enjoy a life here, just as the prior generations have. We all call it home.