In a free-market society, it seems that principles often take a backseat to profit, which is rather disheartening. And so it goes with one apartment project proposed for Downtown Ventura, the argument to require affordable housing waning with the full moon.
With the city of Ventura’s apartment vacancy rate hovering around 2 percent in 2015, renters have endured very high housing costs. The average cost for a one-bedroom is $1,461 and a two bedroom, $1,761. For a single adult to rent a one-bedroom, he or she would have to make over $50,000 a year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average per capita income in Ventura is $32,930, based on 2013 data. So forget about the majority of single adults living alone, regardless of age. For a single adult with a dependent, whether a sick relative or a child, that working adult would have to make around twice the median per capita income to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The funny thing is, in answer to those who advocate that poor people should just move to where affordable housing is, well, those who live below the median income, especially those who fall in the very low to extremely low-income levels, usually don’t have the ability just to move — immobility can be a crushing circumstance of being poor.
Now back to the proposed development in downtown Ventura, a 255-unit, three to five story apartment complex over three and a half acres with 127 two-bedroom units ($1,895-$2,2236, proposed rent based on 2012 moderate income numbers), 120 one-bedroom units ($1,455-$1,786) and eight studios ($1,350). This particular project has been held up for years, due to design review, planning issues, recession restraints and the ever-contentious affordable housing issue. Local ordinances require new developments to have 15 percent of the project be equally divided for moderate (110 percent of the median household income, which was $62,500 in 2012), low (80 percent) and very low income (50 percent). The affordable housing units must remain as such for 50 years, and then they can return to market rate.
In May, the Planning Commission failed to approve the project, either with or without affordable housing, on two votes of 2-2, with three commissioners recusing themselves due to conflict of interest. On Oct. 12, The City Council will review the proposal to approve it, deny it or seek to modify it.
Developer John Ashkar has argued adamantly against inclusionary housing for lower-income families; Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert released a 316-page report this week, supporting Ashkar’s proposal as is and citing a recent California Supreme Court ruling that cities cannot force developers to include affordable units in rental-only housing projects, i.e., cities have to allow developers to establish initial rents. Local affordable housing attorneys argue that the language of the ruling, however, can be interpreted to say otherwise, and that such local ordinances authorized by other state laws can allow cities to mandate the affordable housing.
Whether or not the City Council wants to apply the ruling to support the argument for affordable housing remains to be seen. We feel the City Council should take a better look at the misconceptions about Downtown and affordable housing.
First, it has been said repeatedly that downtown Ventura has too much affordable housing already. While getting numbers on housing units in general for Downtown has proven to be difficult, what we do know is that there are 355 government funded affordable housing units in the area. (There are single room occupancy units in Downtown, though they are not subject to federal, state or municipal governance.) Given that we can’t compare how much that is to how many homes there are in general in Downtown or how many that is in comparison to other similar urban districts, such as around the Victoria corridor, saying there is too much is misleading.
Another misconception is that affordable housing only houses poor families. When looking at the 355 units, 158 are only for seniors, 54 are only for artists, 37 are for Section 8 only (some qualify for Section 8 due to a mental illness or a disability) and 19 are for moderate income (above the median income), leaving 87 units for low- to very-low-income individuals and families. For a single adult, the maximum low income limit is $50,800 and very low is $31,750. When doing the calculations on the pending projects list for downtown, there are 609 market rate housing units planned and 10 affordable housing units, give or take a dozen or so as for sale projects move forward in the planning process. Even more so, to say that there is too much low income housing in an area with hundreds of low paying jobs, from restaurants to retail, is just wrong.
Another argument, coming from the Building Industry Association, is that these kinds of ordinances only clog up the system, making it hard to build and therefore depriving the market of much-needed housing. There is another way of looking at it, however. If developers just complied in one way or another, then they could build faster and move on more quickly to the next project.
Despite all the details, from the legal hang-ups to the glaring misconceptions, this all boils down to principle. The city of Ventura has been slow-growth for so long that longtime residents are being forced out. Downtown workers have to drive relatively far distances from their homes, spending more on gas and travel time than with their families, just to make low wages. Ventura City Council is culpable for this reality, and those who were elected on the platform of affordable housing need to stick to it. We ask our City Councilmembers not to rush the approval of this project. There must be some negotiation that will serve all the residents of Ventura, regardless of economic standing. We can only hope civic responsibility takes precedence.