April 2, 2024
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Our view: Housing crisis is spiraling and hurting the workforce

IN THIS ARTICLE

Leave it to Matthew Fienup, director of California Lutheran University’s CERF program to tell it like it is when it comes to housing.

At the 2024 Ventura County Economic Forecast he laid it on the line. A family earning something like $150,000 a year can barely afford rent. Mortgage? 

Forget about it.

Median home prices are over $800,000 in the county and for once it is even less affordable than Santa Barbara County with its Montecito mansions and Hope Ranch hideaways. 

The lack of housing means a permanent impairment to the county’s economy and the problem will only get worse.  

Fienup called it a “state of crisis,” citing moves by a number of companies, including biotech giant Amgen, to reduce headcounts or relocate. 

“When you have to make so much money, a six-figure salary to afford a home — and not the nicest home, but an unremarkable home — it leads to changes in people’s decisions and problems for employers that don’t have a workforce,” Dan Hamilton, CERF’s director of economics, told the Business Times at the Feb. 28 program.

Ventura County used to have a mix of farmworkers and manufacturers and an economy built on career ladders leading to better pay. Good schools, affordable housing and low crime kept a unique mix of agriculture and industry going.

The career ladders are broken and getting the necessary supply of housing seems out of reach, except in a few areas like Santa Paula. Ventura County’s executives and its board of supervisors have been making positive suggestions about a change in policy. 

The Santa Barbara Foundation has done some encouraging research on solutions.

A crisis typically doesn’t end with the waving of a magic wand. But it will take a lot of work. 

Time to get started.

HOUSING OUR EDUCATORS 

One missing piece to the housing puzzle across the region is how to provide residences for school teachers.

The Housing Trust Fund Ventura County devoted its annual meeting program to this topic at the CSU Channel Islands campus on Feb. 29. The symposium brought together the county officials, the university, Ventura County Office of Education, and Ventura County P-20 Council.

The Trust Fund has notably secured some $40 million raised over the past 10 years with nearly 1200 affordable housing units funded. While these accomplishments are notable, roughly 120 units a year of affordable housing are not going to put much of a dent in the county’s overall housing shortfall.

As the CERF forecast shows, a far more concerted effort is going to be needed to address the county’s housing problems and, in all likelihood, only a dramatic increase in market rate and affordable housing will make it possible for teachers, particularly at the entry-level, to afford a home anywhere in the county.

Part of that solution may be public-private partnerships that provide housing at a more affordable cost. That is an experiment that has been successful at CSU Channel Islands, which has leveraged its large land holdings to build housing for faculty and staff.