Guest column: Habit for Humanity applauds Thousand Oaks' forward-thinking approach

At Habitat for Humanity, we want to add our voice to the cheers for the city of Thousand Oaks’ recent decision to purchase the five acres formerly occupied by Hillcrest School and offer that to developers who would build housing for sale to low-income families. Cities throughout the county have been assisting Habitat and other affordable housing builders to help ease the severe shortage of homes for sale to middle income and lower income families.

“For sale” is the key phrase here.

Throughout our county thousands of rental units have been approved by city councils in recent years. The floodgates have now opened and about 5,000 rental units have been permitted for development. In most cases, around 10% of those units are set aside for people of low income.

(Let’s take a moment to define low-income families in our community. Forget the popular notion that these are “welfare families.” They are not. For the most part, they are couples with children or single parents who work each day in lower income professions. They work hard. They just do not make a lot of money. For instance, “low-income” for a family of four is just below $80,000.)

Those rental units for low-income families are part of the solution, but they are not the complete answer. Rental units, even those with lower monthly payments, do not build equity for those families.

Affordable homes for sale do build that equity. They do help the family build some wealth that can be used to purchase another home or improve the family situation in some other way.

The move by the Thousand Oaks city staff and council was different and forward-thinking. Let me explain why.

Thousand Oaks is buying the former site of the Hillcrest Christian School for $10 million for affordable housing.
Thousand Oaks is buying the former site of the Hillcrest Christian School for $10 million for affordable housing.

Building housing that can be afforded by lower income families is difficult. Many of the fixed costs of housing apply — whether you are building a “market rate home” or a low-income home. Lumber costs the same. Infrastructure for utilities costs the same. Windows cost the same. The area where cities can help is in reducing the cost of the land. And that’s what Thousand Oaks did. They took the cost of the land out of equation and that is approximately half the cost of the home. These homes will now sell for $300,000, not $750,000.

This was an investment of $10 million by the city of Thousand Oaks.

It is an investment that will pay off in the lives of 78 families who had been paying rent, even if they “doubled up” with other family members.

Habitat applauds the partnership that put the Hillcrest deal together — our friends at People’s Self Help Housing, the Ventura Land Trust, and McCarthy Companies. This was a large deal — too large for many single entities to swallow — and created an opportunity for partners to work together on this deal and hopefully more in the future.

Here are some of the other projects, Habitat for Humanity Ventura County is working on. All of these are for sale units:

  • Simi Valley: Where the city is helping us expedite the planning process on a one-acre parcel the city owns. The city has been generous with Habitat on the land acquisition as well.

  • Oxnard: Where we are working with the city, Oxnard Housing Authority and the county to build 28 tiny homes for veterans, homeless and the elderly who are in transition to permanent housing.

  • Ojai: Where the city is deeding land to Habitat for us to build four homes for low-income families.

  • Camarillo: Where the city and Area Housing Authority are helping to close the gap between what it costs Habitat to build these homes and what we can sell them for. (The gap is often $300,00 per home.)

  • Port Hueneme: Where the city deeded property to Habitat and where we built five townhomes.

  • Santa Paula: Where the city and county are helping Habitat with infrastructure costs so we can build six homes.

We deeply appreciate the partnership with the cities in our county. The home-building I have cited in this article will not solve the problem, but it is a very good start. And it shows the way forward to the public and private partnerships that can make a difference.

Darcy Taylor
Darcy Taylor

Darcy Taylor is CEO of Habitat for Humanity Ventura County.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Habit for Humanity applauds Thousand Oaks' forward-thinking approach