by Judy Alexandre, Chair Ventura Social Service Task force
As the Thomas fire continues to spread in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, the number of those without a home has also grown. Many of these citizens have insurance, a positive support system, and the backing of the community both public and private. These resources will greatly aid those that have been deeply impacted by the fire. Some do not have the resources; for those who were renting assistance may be more limited. A few of these residents may join the community of those who are already homeless…without a home.
There is and will be difficulty in locating suitable housing within the City of Ventura. High rents, low vacancy compound an already difficult situation. The high rent contributes to the number of people that are experiencing homelessness throughout the state. Wages have been relatively stagnant. To afford the average rent between $1500-$2500 a month requires 2-3 minimum wage jobs for the least expensive apartment. If you have children or a pet (an important love object and companion for many on the street), locating housing is even more difficult. In addition to the monthly rent some landlords are requiring 3 months’ rent up front. Ironically, many of our first responders do not qualify to purchase homes in the city and may not be able to find suitable housing for their families.
The majority of our homeless population would move into housing if housing was available. There is a severe lack of affordable housing (earning $60-$120,000 a year), very affordable and extremely affordable housing. A person on disability or social security ($800-$1200/month income) cannot afford most existing housing. Their entire income is not sufficient for rent. Working one or two minimum wage jobs is not sufficient income. Currently, a few landlords are charging extremely unreasonable rates, because they can. An example is the owner of an old SRO (single room occupancy), hygiene and kitchen facilities at the end of the hall, charging $1200 a month for a 10’x10 or 10’12’ room. Room rentals in private homes may cost $600-$1000 with limited access to other household facilities. Those who are lucky enough to have a housing voucher (may have waited 5-7 years for the voucher) often cannot find a landlord to accept the voucher because they are currently able to charge so much more that what is allowed by governmental standards. We have a housing crisis that just got worse!
We can do better. The City of Ventura needs to actively support the development of very affordable and extremely affordable housing. Implementing interim emergency alternative solutions such as legal camping, expanded safe sleep programs, refurbishing older mobile homes, while permanent housing is developed is necessary. The city can invite low income developers to come build; zoning can be modified to accommodate the need and permits fast tracked for innovative faster built and more efficient forms of housing (container and tiny homes, etc.). We need the will to act. Our seniors, veterans, low income and workforce families deserve better.
Our year round transition to housing shelter needs to be sited and build now. We have identified operators and potential builders if there is a site and if there is housing to transition people from the shelter.