2015 In the News

Ojai considers low-income housing project to help meet demand - Ventura County Star

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Claudia Boyd-Barrett
Posted: 5:01 PM, Jul 15, 2015
Updated: 5:06 PM, Jul 15, 2015

OJAI, Calif. - With a large number of Ojai residents struggling to afford housing, the city is examining whether vacant land it owns can be used for a low-income housing development.

In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Ojai City Council directed staff to investigate the feasibility of designating land located off South Signal Street behind Libbey Park for an affordable housing project.

One 1.7-acre parcel is currently used by the city’s Public Works Department for storing materials and parking, as well as a bin-swapping area for the city’s trash hauler.

Another vacant, city-owned plot nearby is also being considered, but that would require lifting a deed restriction.

Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, a Santa Barbara affordable housing developer, has expressed interest in using the land to build low-income housing, possibly for 35 or more rental apartments. On Tuesday, the council asked staff to work with the nonprofit organization on creating an initial concept design, either for affordable rental apartments or homes for ownership that buyers help build.

Councilwoman Betsy Clapp voted against the plan, citing concerns about the potential impact of such a development on the land and on the city’s water supply. But other council members said the city needs to make affordable housing a priority.

“There’s no question that Ojai is in desperate need of affordable housing,” said Councilman Paul Blatz. “It’s time that we do something about it. It’s a very important issue for our community and we need to get started on it.”

Under state law, Ojai is required to zone for some affordable housing as part of its general plan. The state considers housing costs unaffordable when they exceed 30 percent of gross household income. In Ojai, over half of renters and nearly 40 percent of homeowners fall into that category.

Several residents spoke passionately in favor of the proposed project.

Trudy Ingram said she recently moved back to Ojai, where she had lived for 28 years and raised her daughter, only to find that most rents are now out of reach. All she can afford is to rent a room in someone’s house, she said.

“I’ve never been in this position before and it’s not the best situation,” she said, citing a loss of privacy and decision-making power. “Lack of affordable housing not only impacts people like me in profound ways, but I think it also robs the community of our best selves and our ability to be productive.”

Real estate agent Dale Hanson said finding a place to rent in Ojai has become impossible for people who work in the city. Many long-term rentals have become vacation rentals, she said.

“I think that the need for affordable rentals is really clear,” she said. “I really hope that we move forward with this program as quickly as possible.”

Other speakers, however, expressed fears that a new housing development would further strain the area’s water supply by increasing the population. Some also spoke against selling off city land for such a purpose.

“This is not the time for the city to cram more people into the available space in high density housing,” said Roderick Greene. “If you build more housing units you increase the population of the city, you increase the population who will draw on the already diminishing water resources that we have.”

Mayor Severo Lara countered that data shows Ojai’s population is declining, so adding new housing would not lead to a big increase.

People’s Self Help Housing President and CEO John Fowler said the organization would put together concept drawings for the project for free. The plans should be ready in six to eight weeks.