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Experts Warn of Growing County Housing Crisis

Development: A Sept. 13 conference is called to examine possible solutions to a shortage of affordable homes.

September 02, 2002|JESSICA BLANCHARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When nearly 150 families showed up at a July meeting to vie for one of two Habitat for Humanity homes being built in Oxnard, Annette Hauchin saw firsthand how desperately the county needs more affordable housing.

The executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity chapter said she has seen the number of people seeking assistance double in the last two years, as housing prices have soared.

In July, the median price of a Ventura County home was $331,000, while the median household income for fiscal 2001-2002 was $74,700, according to statistics from the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project and DataQuick Information Services, which monitors completed home sales.

In June, statistics showed that 33% of county residents can afford to buy a home. While that's higher than neighboring counties such as Santa Barbara, where the housing affordability rate dips to 18%, it is significantly lower than the national average of 55%, according to UCSB economic analysts.

Frustrated by the county's low housing affordability rates and what they call an ongoing regional housing crisis, three private nonprofit developers plan to hold a daylong conference Sept. 13 to address the problem.

Cabrillo Economic Development Corp., Housing Opportunities Made Easier and the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. will jointly host the event, which will be held at the Clarion Hotel in Ventura.

Conference organizers plan to press community leaders and interest groups to find solutions to the housing crunch.

"There's a growing recognition of the severity of the regional housing crisis," said conference coordinator Jennifer McGovern. "And we hope to raise public awareness while there's still time to do something."

When county voters passed strict slow-growth provisions in 1998, requiring a majority of voters to approve any new development of open spaces between cities, some opponents of the law predicted that it could contribute to the housing crisis by limiting the availability of land on which to build affordable housing.

But Rodney Fernandez, executive director of the Cabrillo Economic Development Corp., said the SOAR law just means that cities need to explore new strategies to solve the problem.

"SOAR keeps getting a bad name, but I don't think that's fair," Fernandez said. "To me, the real challenge is providing a better mix of housing. SOAR says build within the boundaries, and the housing being built doesn't meet people's needs. Part of the challenge is to get different interest groups to roll up their sleeves and figure out how to make this work."

Some of the proposed strategies, such as building higher-density and mixed-use projects as well as redeveloping abandoned properties into affordable housing, already have been used in the county. Habitat for Humanity, for example, recently converted an abandoned senior living center in Thousand Oaks into a four-bedroom, single-family home.

Such redevelopment is probably one of the easiest ways to get more affordable housing while limiting urban sprawl, said Dan Hamilton, director of economics at the UCSB Economic Forecast Project.

McGovern said one of the conference's four workshops will focus on such "smart" land-use planning principles as allowing for higher density and mixed-use developments. Another workshop will discuss new financing tools, such as housing trust funds or the combination of employer down-payment assistance programs with secondary loans from local governments.

Organizers said they hope to turn the housing conference, the first one in the region, into an annual event.

"I think there's enough examples in other communities where this has been done well, and we need to avail ourselves of those examples," Fernandez said. "The key is to have the right people around the table."

More than 10,000 invitations were sent to people in the community, he said. About 150 people have signed up, and Fernandez said organizers hope to get at least 300 to attend.

The conference costs $95 per person for those who register before Tuesday, or $115 after. For more information, call Cabrillo Economic Development Corp. at 659-3791.

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