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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Work to Start on 312 Apartments in Moorpark

Development: The project will be geared to middle-income families and professionals. The city has the lowest proportion of affordable housing in the county.

September 08, 2000|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOORPARK — This city, which has the lowest proportion of affordable housing in the county, is set to get its first new apartment complex in a decade, a $40-million project that aims to relieve the crunch in rental housing.

But the upscale, 312-unit Mediterranean-style development by Colorado-based Archstone Communities, which should break ground on the project by the end of the month, will not, for the most part, target poor families.

The developer aims to attract mostly middle-income families and young professionals who, despite full-time jobs, can't touch the city's median home price of $295,000 and can't find an opening in any of the city's 1,250 rentals because of a 1% vacancy rate. Monthly rents for the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are expected to range from $1,000 to $1,600 when the complex opens in about a year.

Over the last two decades, as Moorpark evolved from a small, farming community into a high-end bedroom community of about 30,000 residents, its housing stock has grown rapidly, but mostly in the form of expensive, single-family homes. There are only four apartment complexes in Moorpark, city planners said, and one is reserved for senior housing.

"Our focus has always been on families and children, but at the same time, we are not providing [enough] housing opportunities," Councilman Chris Evans said. "We're literally forcing our kids to move away because we're not doing an adequate job of providing first-time housing. That's what Archstone represents."

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Ernie Bravo, a technician at Moorpark Pharmacy, had to move out of Moorpark when he decided to live on his own.

"I used to live here with my parents, but there's no way I can live here now," the 24-year-old Bravo said. "It's too expensive."

Two years ago, he scoped out the rental market in Moorpark, found nothing he liked or could afford, and moved to Simi Valley, where he rents a house with roommates.

Bravo said he is interested in renting an apartment, but he has become skeptical of complexes that describe themselves as upscale but are overpriced and unimaginative boxes.

"I'd have to see it first," he said.

In any case, the Archstone complex isn't expected to satisfy all the demand for rental housing in the city, and Evans believes that two more similar projects could be sustained.

Meanwhile, Moorpark is under orders from the state to significantly boost its low-income housing over the next five years.

A recent study by the Southern California Assn. of Governments found that only 18% of Moorpark's housing stock is considered affordable for lower-income residents. That is the lowest percentage in the county. Simi Valley follows at 21%. Fillmore and Santa Paula had the highest percentages of low-income housing--slightly more than 50% each.

The state says Moorpark must increase its low-income housing percentage to 33% for housing built through 2005, or face the threat of litigation. To that end, the city is looking to builders that specialize in affordable single-family homes and senior housing. And 62 apartments in the Archstone complex will be reserved for low- and very low-income residents.

It is difficult to develop apartment complexes in Ventura County because of land prices, slow-growth sentiment and homeowners' historical distaste for rental projects, said Doug Wright, project manager for the Archstone complex.

But in recent years, population growth and home prices that surpass the reach of many middle-income professionals have greatly pushed up the demand for rental apartments.

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Developers that find a suitable patch of land and a city that is willing to do business can make a tidy profit on upscale projects, Wright said.

"Rents have been going up tremendously," he said. "As long as the demand outstrips the supply, that puts upward pressure on rents."

At the new complex, the units will be housed in three-story buildings with tile roofs, stucco exteriors and balconies. The complex, which will include a pool, spa and recreation areas, will sit on more than 18 acres of what used to be commercial land, bounded by Los Angeles and Moorpark avenues and close to the city's downtown, Metrolink station and California 23.

Rents at the Archstone project would be higher than the average monthly rent countywide--$996 as of earlier this year. Even so, they are not far off the mark from what the state considers affordable.

Rental housing is considered affordable if it takes up to 30% of a family's earnings. In Ventura County, a family of four is considered low income if it earns no more than $47,800.

Archstone Communities opened a Southern California office four years ago after the company's market research showed how profitable regional apartment development could be, Wright said. Now, "Los Angeles and Ventura counties are two of our top markets in the entire country," he added.

The company will own and manage the Moorpark complex once it is built.

Archstone is also in early stages of developing an apartment complex in Camarillo, Wright said, and has purchased the Le Club apartment complex next door to the future Moorpark complex.

The addition of an apartment complex, even one too pricey for many working families, "is going to allow Moorpark to meet the needs of an important segment of the population," said Dawn Dyer, president of the Dyer-Sheehan Group, a Camarillo real estate consulting firm that tracks area apartment trends.

Meanwhile, the developer agreed to make several improvements to roads near the project and pay substantial fees to the city.

The project has already brought Moorpark at least $4 million in development fees, according to documents at City Hall, and city officials say total fees will be closer to $6 million by the time it's complete.

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