Guest column: It’s time to get creative if we want to solve the housing crisis

Ventura County ranked first as experiencing the worst housing shortage in the nation according to a study released by nonprofit research group Up for Growth. Short 31,000 units, Ventura County is part of a nationwide trend that saw housing underproduction double between 2012 and 2019. The study did not include a 25% increase in the county’s homeless population since the beginning of the pandemic. As the housing crisis continues to worsen, new approaches are necessary to provide affordable housing to more people.

Addressing the high cost of land is one of the most direct ways to make building affordable housing easier and faster. Between 2012 and 2017, the value of land used for single-family housing in the United States rose at a rate nearly four times higher than inflation, according to a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. A community land trust allows different sectors to join together to identify and secure land as a lasting asset on which to create and maintain permanently affordable housing developments, providing opportunities for generations of lower income families and individuals.

Housing Land Trust Ventura County was formed in 2021 as a community land trust that works to acquire donated land to preserve for affordable housing development by removing the most cost-prohibitive part of building affordable homes, the high cost of land.

Ventura County has at least two different types of Land Trusts. Housing Land Trust VC accepts land for development of affordable housing in perpetuity. Ventura Land Trust, on the other hand. preserves land for open space such as the Ventura hillsides.  Both play a vital role in our community’s long-term viability.

In April 2021, Housing Land Trust Ventura County received a donation of land valued at $840,000 from the city of Oxnard for the development of what will be The Oxnard Navigation Center at Casa de Carmen. The project is being led by developer Community Development Partners and will provide 55 affordable housing units, 110 shelter beds, and 24-hour supportive services to the city’s homeless population. Housing Trust Fund Ventura County provided a loan of $800,000 to support pre-development costs associated exclusively with the 55 affordable housing units. Eliminating the cost of land and providing pre-development funding directly contributes to the Navigation Center’s ability to give time and resources to the people that need them most.

The land donation was also included as part of $5 million raised locally by Housing Trust Fund VC, which was matched by the California Department of Housing and Community Development under State Proposition 1 Local Housing Trust Fund matching grant program. This marks a first-ever achievement in Ventura County where the value of donated land is included in the state match, paving the way for future land donations and creative approaches to solving the housing crisis.

In November, the city of Thousand Oaks approved the donation of 3.87 acres of surplus land, formerly the site of Hillcrest Christian School, to Housing Trust Fund VC/Housing Land Trust VC. The land, valued at $10 million, will be developed by People’s Self-Help Housing into nearly 80 affordable for-purchase townhomes. Housing Land Trust VC is uniquely positioned to ensure each property remains affordable for all future homeowners with a 99-year lease that includes a pay-it-forward deed restriction through the community land trust.

As more people are priced out of their homes, those affected often include our most essential workers. In 2021, the Brookings Institution found that essential workers make up nearly half of all earners in low-paid occupations. Without affordable housing essential workers are forced to commute from neighboring cities and counties, affecting everything from traffic to the economy of Ventura County.

Affordable housing strengthens our community by creating opportunities for residents to build quality lives. Providing both affordable rental units and deed-restricted affordable homes for-purchase gives residents a sense of permanence that creates stability and an opportunity to grow. When residents have the stability they need, they have the freedom to live, work, shop and give back to a community they feel invested in.

Housing Land Trust Ventura County is committed to finding new ways to make affordable housing even easier, starting with the high cost of land. By taking new approaches to an old problem, we can work to solve the housing crisis and provide affordable housing more effectively and efficiently, because everyone deserves a home.

Linda BraunschweigerLinda Braunschweiger

Linda Braunschweiger

Linda Braunschweiger is the CEO of Housing Trust Fund Ventura County and Housing Land Trust Ventura County.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: It’s time to get creative if we want to solve the housing crisis