Pastor Robert van Ouwerkerk just bought his dream home for $195,000, about half of its true market value. For that, he can thank bureaucratic intervention.
In Camarillo, city officials have given a helping hand to 34 families that otherwise could not have hoped to crack Ventura County's brutal housing market.
From a pool of 2,000 potential buyers, those 34 won a computer lottery that enabled them to purchase homes in a new subdivision in a safe, suburban city with good schools, and where the price of a typical house has soared to $400,000.
The winners include teachers, office workers, a minister, a truck driver, an architect and two retirees.
What they have in common is that they have lived or worked in this comfortable city of 60,000, qualified as low- or moderate-income buyers and had never owned a home.
"We feel so privileged to be able to live in one of these houses," said an emotional Van Ouwerkerk, 46, in an interview. "We tried to save, but prices just escalated. It seemed impossible, and I was going to surrender the idea of ever owning a home."
The Calvary Chapel minister was one of three home buyers who spoke Monday as the city of Camarillo and the Olson Co. development firm celebrated the opening of the Cedarbrook Walk project in fast-growing east Camarillo.
Of course, every home was sold before it reached the market.
Another speaker was a single mother who works in the accounting department of the local school district, and a third was a stay-at-home mother whose husband teaches school in Thousand Oaks.
Nearly all of the houses went to families that qualified as low-income -- earning a maximum of $41,940 for a single person, up to $74,120 for a seven-person household.
If such families hadn't purchased in this new subdivision, where could they have bought in Ventura County? asked Mark Buckland, president of Seal Beach-based Olson Co., the state's largest builder of urban in-fill housing on small lots.
"Palmdale," he answered, referring to an affordable high-desert community more than an hour away. "We're getting families who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford a home here."
That's the story these days in Ventura County, where the median price of a house or condo is $348,000 and tops $400,000 in east Camarillo, where workers can still commute to Los Angeles.
The Cedarbrook Walk project is part of a multi-pronged effort by Camarillo officials to ensure that their city does not become a haven only for the rich. Bob Burrow, community development director, said the city has affordability agreements with 13 rental projects affecting 712 units around the city.
The Cedarbrook Walk project is the fifth for which the city has provided direct financial assistance to buyers.
In this case, city contributions totaled $760,000 in mostly state and federal housing money: $400,000 to buy the 2 1/2 acres on which the 34 homes sit, $180,000 in down-payment subsidies and $180,000 in waived permit costs and fees.
"It's like an investment, because now for 30 years we're going to maintain an affordable-housing restriction on these units," Burrow said. "We're not in a position to solve the state's housing crisis; we're just trying to do what we can for Camarillo."
Sales restrictions allow buyers to sell the Cedarbrook dwellings, but not at market value. The sales price of each dwelling can be increased only as much as the cost of living, or currently about 3% a year.
Not that the Van Ouwerkerks are looking to cash in.
Robert, wife Sandra, children Christian and Lauren and stepmother Josephine Chagolla moved to Camarillo five years ago because Robert's brother had found the city to be the perfect place to raise a family.
"This was the place we wanted our children to grow up," Van Ouwerkerk said. "We'd visit my brother, go to the soccer games and notice there was a church almost on every corner. We knew we'd like to put down roots."
But the prospect of owning a home faded as prices doubled in recent years.
That was before a friend mentioned the Cedarbrook Walk project, prompting the family to apply last June. On Oct. 30, they received a call to seal the deal.
In January, they moved into their three-bedroom, two-story house at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. The house is only 1,400 square feet and the lot a tiny 2,500 square feet. But the family considers itself lucky.
"The reality is that even the houses a couple of blocks away are going for a half-million," Van Ouwerkerk said. "So we're thankful to live in such a place."