Pictured: Lucia Marquez, senior policy advocate with CAUSE speaking about the housing crisis during a meeting of the Ventura City Council from Bell Arts Factory in Ventura on July 12, 2021. Photo submitted.
by Kimberly Rivers
On Monday, July 12, the Ventura City Council responded to concerns from community members about the lack of affordable rental housing by directing staff to make time on a future agenda for a presentation on the housing crisis in the city.
“This is really about stopping the bleeding, we can’t keep up with rent prices. Our families are being displaced during a massive disaster,” said Lucia Marquez, senior policy advocate with Central Coast Alliance United For a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE). “Even before the pandemic the housing crisis is really real in our community.”
Citing the high cost of living and rising rents which are exceeding “what our communities can afford,” Marquez said CAUSE moved to prioritize advocacy for policies in the city that will protect tenants.
Monday night over a dozen residents implored the council to enact temporary “rent stabilization” to protect renters as rental costs skyrocket with limited housing and an influx of renters looking for a place to live. CAUSE organized a call-in from Bell Arts Factory on Ventura Avenue, bringing together residents and CAUSE staff to speak during public comment at the online meeting.
“We’ve been hit with disaster after disaster [and many] local working class, undocumented families don’t qualify for assistance; we feel our communities bleeding,” said Marquez, adding that a “surge in unemployment is really exacerbating this housing crisis.”
Councilmember Lorrie Brown made the motion, seconded by Councilmember Mike Johnson. The vote was unanimous to put the discussion item on a future agenda before the council. Marquez hopes it is calendared quickly.
Maria Navarro, a policy advocate with CAUSE, reported that in Ventura, 46% of the population are renters, and of those people, 57% are “rent burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30% of their income to rent. She said wages in the area have been stagnant, while rents continually go up. Even with the rental support programs enacted during the pandemic there is “no guarantee” that the assistance will leave renters “debt free.”
Maria Perez, a 25-year-resident of Ventura, told the council that her daughter has been searching for an apartment for two years but is not finding anything affordable. Meanwhile the “luxury apartments” being built across town are “not accessible to our families.”
Some speakers cited the rental application requirements. Rosie Morales, a 20-year Ventura resident, said many require high wages, and even a “minimum number of children . . . we have to hide our own children” to qualify for an apartment. Morales said she is very worried about high rental prices.
Marquez explained that the policy requests involved three key components that work together to protect renters and keep housing affordable. First, rent stabilization, which would place a cap on how often and in what amount rent can be increased. This can be done by the council, or by a rent board formed by the council. Second, “just cause” eviction policies, which would prohibit evictions without just cause; and third, displacement assistance. She cited a policy in Santa Barbara requiring landlords to pay three months in displacement assistance to renters who are evicted by no fault of their own (for example when a property is listed for sale or a landlord is opting to move back into the home).
In desirable areas like Ventura and Santa Barbara, “we are seeing waves of mass displacement. Large apartment complexes are going to be remodeled and every single tenant is evicted . . . to be able to bring in what a landlord would consider a more desirable tenant . . . [paying] higher rents.”
Marquez pointed to elected officials who campaign on bringing affordable housing to the city and expressed hope that they can continue the conversation. She said Monday night was about the council members hearing from speakers about “what this lived experience looks and feels like . . . and we hope [the council will] be taking the first step to take action around this issue.”
Video of the Ventura City Council meeting can be viewed at: www.cityofventura.ca.gov/718/Videos.