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Leaders Take Up Issue of Affordable Housing

March 12, 1998|KATE FOLMAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — The problem is clear: Teachers, firefighters, clerical workers, food service workers and salesclerks who work in the Conejo Valley often cannot afford to live here.

The statistics are compelling: One-bedroom apartments rent for $775 a month or more, three-bedroom apartments run $1,450. Vacancy rates are hovering at a low 4%, leaving no incentive for property owners to reduce rents.

Most apartments in Thousand Oaks are too expensive for people who make $30,000 or less a year unless they spend more than the traditional 30% of family income on housing, experts say.

So at a two-hour housing meeting Wednesday, about 50 city and county leaders, real estate agents, business leaders and members of social service groups went hunting for solutions to the affordable-housing question.

Presenters outlined the difficulties in building affordable housing--from zoning to funding to neighborhood resistance. The problem can be particularly vexing in Thousand Oaks, known for its slow-growth policies.

"Neighbors say, 'I don't want low-income apartments next to me,' " said Douglas A. Tapking, executive director of the Area Housing Authority. " 'They don't look like me. They don't act like me. They don't do the things I do.' "

But the people seeking housing assistance in Thousand Oaks defy stereotypes, said Dan Hardy, executive director of the housing group Many Mansions.

Of the 1,134 families Many Mansions served last year, three-quarters were headed by women; 76% were white; about 60% were either working or living off pensions; and 65% were from Thousand Oaks.

Real estate agents outlined a variety of government programs available to assist first-time home buyers with down payments, low-interest loans and tax credits. Among their favorites was an ownership assistance program offered by the city.

One of the most controversial solutions offered included the possibility of changing zoning to allow older houses to be redeveloped with higher-density projects--apartments, duplexes or townhouses.

However, density is considered a negative word in the community, said Olav E. Hassel, Thousand Oaks' housing services manager.

The housing meeting was organized by A Time for Families, a group of leaders from religious and social service groups and local government that was founded by Thousand Oaks City Councilwoman Judy Lazar and County Supervisor Frank Schillo in September.

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