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Nonprofit Builder in National Push for Rural Housing

November 01, 1995|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County's largest private developer of low-income housing is one of 68 groups nationwide selected for an unprecedented campaign to aid long-neglected rural communities.

Having beaten out about 200 developers vying for the program, the Cabrillo Economic Development Corp. of Saticoy is now in line to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars--and potentially millions--from a newly created pool of loans and grants to plan, build and manage housing for the poor.

"This is the first national rural effort in this country of this scale, and we're humbled to be a part of it," said Cabrillo Executive Director Rodney Fernandez, who is in Washington, D.C., for today's campaign launch. "I think this is a recognition of the success we have had over the years."

The housing program--organized by the Local Initiatives Support Corp., the nation's largest supporter of community development corporations--will pump $302 million in public and private funds into rural communities in 39 states over the next four years.

The campaign represents the first time that banks, the federal government and private foundations have joined to attack poverty in rural America, according to officials with Local Initiatives Support Corp.

"This initiative provides attention and access to resources for hard-working, visionary community development organizations that have not received their fair share of those commodities," said Sandra Rosenblith, who heads the Rural LISC program for the Washington-based organization.

After deciding to launch the rural housing campaign nearly two years ago, LISC scoured the country in search of nonprofit community developers. That's when the Cabrillo Economic Development Corp. entered the picture.

Founded in 1981, the nonprofit developer of low-income housing has gained national attention for innovative projects serving farm workers and other poor residents.

To date, the group has developed 715 units, providing shelter for more than 3,000 people, in nine communities from Ojai to Moorpark.

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Cabrillo recently completed a 32-unit apartment complex near downtown Oxnard and is nearing completion of a 13-unit complex in Camarillo and a 22-unit project in Simi Valley.

As part of the new program, Fernandez said Cabrillo will focus on the largely rural communities of Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru--areas with many low-income residents but not enough affordable housing.

The group will establish an advisory committee for the three communities to further explore housing needs.

At the same time, Fernandez said, Cabrillo will pursue the construction of a 29-unit complex in Santa Paula. With the lowest per-capita income in Ventura County, Santa Paula had no public housing until this summer, when the Santa Paula Housing Authority purchased a 22-unit apartment building near the downtown district.

"Our primary, most pressing need is to eliminate some of the blighted housing we have and put people in some decent housing," said housing authority Chairwoman Flo Zakrajshek, noting that too many residents still live in converted toolsheds and garages.

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"If the city is going to take some of these shacks and consider them part of the housing stock, God help us," Zakrajshek said. "Some of them are not fit to live in."

For now, Cabrillo will receive $50,000 to pursue the construction of housing in Santa Paula. Cabrillo also will receive $32,000 a year for the next several years toward development efforts in the three rural communities.

And as projects come to fruition, Fernandez said, Cabrillo will be able to go back to the Local Initiatives Support Corp. and seek more funding.

"We will be able to receive additional resources over time to help us do additional work in those communities," Fernandez said. "Until now, there haven't been a lot of resources available for the rural communities."

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