These days, the city of Ventura has much to celebrate — a flourishing downtown, an increase in employment and a rapidly rebounding housing market.
The housing market is good news for those who own their homes, but it’s putting a big strain on Ventura residents who work in the restaurants of our thriving downtown or the hotels of our growing tourism industry.
Most of these folks have modest incomes and don’t own their own houses. They rent, which means they are at risk whenever rents go up. In the last year, average rents in Ventura rose at a faster rate than any other city in the county.
When people are priced out of the communities where they live and work, the consequences are significant.
As local workers move their families to other cities like Oxnard or Santa Paula in search of cheaper housing, longer commutes lead to more traffic on our roads and pollution in our air. It is harder for workers to spend time with their families when they are off work.
Facing long waiting lists for homeless shelters and public housing, families — even families whose parents have jobs — can sometimes end up on the street, living in cars or in environmentally sensitive areas like the Ventura river bottom.
Ventura has always used a wide range of policies to provide housing for people up and down the income ladder, including mobile home rent control, housing vouchers, and aggressive efforts to house the homeless.
With housing prices on the rise, the city must continue to use every tool available to make sure the city remains affordable for the local workers who help drive our economic growth.
One proven strategy is Ventura’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which requires that developers set aside a small portion of the housing they build to be within reach of moderate-income working-class families. This policy was adopted by the City Council in 2006, but the council is now considering changing or eliminating it.
That would be the wrong move — harming, rather than helping the city’s efforts to ensure that workers in these flourishing industries can afford living in town.
Nearly 200 cities and counties in California use inclusionary housing policies as a cost-effective way to provide affordable housing. Tens of thousands of units have been built as a result.
And when state officials approved the city’s “housing element” — our housing policy document — they not only endorsed the idea of inclusionary housing but suggested changes to improve the program.
No one expects developers to meet all of the city’s affordable housing needs. We all must pitch in and help. But as developers benefit financially from Ventura’s housing market comeback, they should do their fair share to provide some units with reasonable rents.
At the very least, developers who want to exclusively build costly housing should pay an in-lieu fee that provides enough resources for the city to build affordable housing instead.
One of the qualities that make Ventura unique is its diverse mix of people of different ages, incomes and ethnicities. It is not an expensive bedroom community or a low-income farmworker town, but a balanced local economy where families of all kinds can live, work and play.
If the City Council votes Monday to eliminate its inclusionary housing ordinance, it will put Ventura on a path to becoming a place that is unaffordable for many of our friends and neighbors to live. That will harm both our quality of life and our prosperity as a community.
The city should maintain its commitment to being an inclusive and sustainable community by voting to preserve affordable housing.
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