Council grapples with affordable housing in city’s Housing Element

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Grant Phillips, Ojai Valley News reporter 

Originally tasked by the state with creating a plan for 371 affordable units in the city of Ojai, staff and Ojai City Council participated in the Southern California Association of Governments process, which dropped the number to 53.


The City Council is working on its Housing Element, addressing the state-mandated allocation of housing needed in each jurisdiction, outlined in what are called Regional Housing Needs Assessments.

The 53 units for the city of Ojai are not required, but the city must show an attempt to reach this number, while identifying possible locations where the units can be built.

An empty, buildable lot on 1.44 acres on North Montgomery Street sold in July for a reported $920,000. Even without a home, the location nearly reached the median home price for the Ojai Valley: $934,500 — an increase of $259,000 from the year prior.

Renters face a similar price crunch.

A study conducted through Zillow for the sixth cycle Housing Element in June found only two apartments and one condo available for rent in Ojai: the one-bedroom apartment was listed at $1,600 per month, and the fivebedroom condo at $13,000 per month.

The overall cost of housing and definition of “affordable” are addressed in the sixth-cycle Housing Element draft.

“Affordable” is defined in the draft as a household paying less than 30% of their income on housing costs. By definition, Ojai has the fewest number of affordable housing units in the county.

For comparison, Santa Paula’s RHNA number is 657 and Oxnard’s is 8,549.

The tiers for RHNA number guidelines applicable to Ojai’s median home price are:

• Very Low (<50% of median) — 13 units, income limit: $47,775

• Low (50-80%) – nine units, income limit: $78,000

• Moderate (80-120%) – 10 units, income limit: $117,000

• Above moderate (>120%) – 21 units, income limit: $117,000+

The current list of proposed sites in the Housing Element would allow for 95 potential units and 136 maximum units, nearly doubling the city’s allotted RHNA numbers. But new units built since 2010 make up just 0.1% of the city’s housing stock.

Ojai has both the highest median home price in the county, as well as the highest percentage of lower-income household residents, a situation that creates conflict when addressing affordable housing.

The Housing Element states 58.65% of renter households were overpaying for housing in Ojai.

“When we hear ‘affordable,’ we think it’s actually affordable for people, and that word doesn’t really mean much anymore.” said Mayor Betsy Stix. “In terms of verylow and extremely-low income…we just don’t have that available at this point.”

The draft estimates the median income for Ojai residents at $97,800 per year.

The American Community Survey estimates 25.6% of Ojai’s residents are above the age of 65, significantly higher than the county’s 15%. And 43.3% of owner-households are headed by someone 65 or older. Fixed income, disabilities, and other factors make increased housing costs difficult to navigate for this group, an issue Ojai resident Bill Miley addressed during Sept. 14’s City Council meeting.

“Our city has a much higher age population than others, and will be needing much more affordable residences in the future,” said Miley. “The need for units is greater than the supply.”

One way to combat the problem noted in the draft could be multistory units, offering housing density for the city.

City Attorney Matt Summers stated: “It is possible, through the state density bonus law, even in an existing residential multi-family zone, to add a story if we're required to do so in return for enough affordable housing.”

The expansion of stories throughout the community stirred controversy, with Mayor Stix stating: “It would change the nature of the town in some ways.”

Councilmember Ryan Blatz clarified that three-story buildings already exist within the city, noting a structure on the corner of Matilija and Montgomery streets.

ACS also shows there is an 8.7% vacancy rate in Ojai throughout the city’s 3000- plus housing stock, indicating many homes are seasonally used as second or third residences.

This number is higher than every other city and unincorporated area in the county.

Under newly passed Senate Bills 9 and 10, some of these units could potentially be converted into 10-unit structures or could undergo parcel splits, creating up to four additional units per parcel.

Accessory dwelling units were initially intended to serve as a method of creating affordable housing throughout the city, but the term “affordable” has been removed from the latest Housing Element draft in relation to ADUs.

“New ADUs add to the housing inventory, but not necessarily to the affordable housing inventory,” states the draft. ADUs qualify for the “moderate” category by default, regardless of their rental price.

Ojai is on track to reach its Oct. 15 submission deadline, expected to submit early on Oct. 12. But reaching the deadline still does not guarantee the development of any new homes for the area. 


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