Needs pitted against slow growth management
By Nao Braverman
Ojai’s housing element calls to balance two pressing issues which have raised the ire of local residents of over the years: slow growth and the need for affordable housing. Though at odds with one another, the city needs to address both. According to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Ventura County must allow for 28,481 units to be built by 2014, with 433 of those being built in Ojai.
That number does not exactly coincide with Ojai’s Slow Growth Management Plan which allows for 16 new housing units a year. But the city is required to answer to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, and the growing population must be considered. City staff has already met twice with a task force comprised of planning commissioners and representatives from local non-profit housing agencies to come up with a program to accommodate the state’s housing requirements and meet Ojai’s housing needs.
The 433 units don’t actually need to be built by the city, explains city manager Jere Kersnar. That is the job of the developers. The city does, however, have to make room for such development.
With six new units built already, the 433 unit requirement has decreased to 427. With the help of planning consultant Tom Figg, city staff determined that corresponding to Ojai’s population, 254 of the 427 total need to be affordable for very low, low, and moderate income residents.
Prices for affordable housing are determined to cost the resident about 30 percent of their income. That means an affordable two-bedroom rental is $900 a month for very-low income residents, $1,080 for low income residents and $1,970 for moderate income residents. Affordable two-bedroom homes for sale are $87,300 for very-low income, $133,800 for low income residents and $260,300 for moderate income residents.
With Ojai’s growing elderly population, 50 of those units will be for seniors, and could be built in a location zoned for other use with a zone change, approved by the City Council. Under Figg’s consultation, city staff concluded that 13 new units could be constructed in the current area zoned for Village Mixed Use, seven new units could be added to existing homes, and 15 new unit credits could be obtained through affordable housing covenants, making existing units contractually affordable.
The latter, though not exactly new constructions, are still credited as new units by the Housing and Community Development Department, because of their contractual affordability.
Figg calculated that 138 units are expected to be built by the market. That leaves 204 units that the city needs to make room for.
How city staff will do that is still being discussed among staff and task force members.
Task force members were generally in agreement with Figg’s report, except for local resident Rod Greene who said he thought that the city should reject the state mandate because so many homes are not suitable to Ojai’s character and environment.
City staff members are currently considering a special housing overlay which would either change areas zoned for other uses to strictly housing, or give the property owner the option of developing housing on their property. Though the latter is a friendlier approach it is, of course, uncertain to result in new housing, said Kersnar.
At the next housing element meeting on Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m., city staff will finalize a housing program to recommend to the Planning Commission at their Nov. 28 meeting. If approved by the commission it will go to the City Council for adoption on Dec. 11.