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Business Executives Urged to Promote Affordable Apartments

Growth: Organizers say CEOs' influence could persuade elected leaders of the need for multifamily housing.


Ventura County business leaders are being called upon to use their influence to promote construction of additional affordable apartments and townhomes, which a local advocate says are desperately needed to accommodate all income levels of the county's work force.

Without such an effort, it is unlikely the type of housing needed to attract and retain businesses will be built, said Fred Ferro, chairman of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn.'s housing task force and an Oxnard commercial real estate broker.

Ferro will make a pitch for organizing a group to lobby local governments at a breakfast business forum today in Camarillo. He pointed to similar efforts statewide, including the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group.

Ferro is seeking participation by executives from a wide range of local companies, from high-tech manufacturer Xircom in Thousand Oaks to the Procter & Gamble paper products plant in Oxnard.

Underscoring Ferro's message was a report released Tuesday showing monthly rents in the county's tight market climbed 4.6% since January, averaging $1,042. The rents cover apartments, townhomes and condominiums.

That's 21% higher than the average rent only two years ago, according to the report by the Dyer Sheehan Group, a Ventura-based real estate consulting and brokerage firm. A two-bedroom apartment countywide averages $1,135, the report found, while a similar apartment in the Oxnard-Port Hueneme area goes for $1,003. The average two-bedroom rental in Thousand Oaks is $1,249, according to the report.

Vacancy rates were at 1.4% countywide, and below 1% in Ventura, Moorpark and Simi Valley. The shortage props up high rental prices and indicates a need for more multifamily housing, officials say.

"Unless we start mobilizing now, it'll be too late," Ferro said. "In five years, we're going to be a lot more like the Silicon Valley, where companies are moving out because no one can afford the housing locally."

With strict growth-control laws in place throughout the county, it is imperative for apartment and townhome projects to be given special consideration by city officials, Ferro said. These projects should not be readily dismissed solely on the basis of complaints from neighbors, he said.

"We'd like to get CEOs advocating specific projects to offset the usual NIMBYs [Not In My Backyard] we're going to face in the post-SOAR environment," said Ferro, referring to the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources measures that seek to limit urban sprawl.

Dawn Dyer, president of the Dyer Sheehan Group, said county business leaders are needed to help remove the stigma that some elected officials and residents associate with multifamily building projects. Dyer said they need to stress that providing such housing is an economic necessity for the county.

"In order to afford the average apartment you'd need to be making $41,680 a year, to rent an 858-square-foot apartment," Dyer said. "We as a community need to rethink our prejudices against multifamily and higher-density housing and realize that it's a reality in today's economic world."

But not everyone likes Ferro's idea.

Laura Lee Custodio, a Thousand Oaks resident who fought the Dos Vientos housing developers in their efforts to extend Borchard Road, said the business lobbying plan sounds like a smoke screen to legitimize builders' moneymaking efforts.

"Any time a for-profit individual or organization lobbies on behalf of the 'little guy' I get suspicious," she said. "It appears that the building industry is using this premise as a pretext to inundate our community with massive multistory units . . . all in the name of 'business.' "

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