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HUD Plan Won’t Help Area’s Poor, Officials Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While encouraged by the federal government’s new $488-billion housing program, local housing officials said Friday they doubt it will boost home ownership among Ventura County’s low-income residents.

Although the amount the county will receive has yet to be determined, housing officials said that rising home values and the ever-increasing cost of living may blunt the program’s impact.

“This county has different housing issues than other places in the country that I don’t think this program is addressing,” said Douglas Tapking, executive director of the Ventura County Housing Authority.

Despite the substantial funding hike, the Department of Housing and Urban Development did not increase its loan limit of $208,000. Officials say an increase is necessary to make homes affordable for lower-income residents.

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Of equal concern is the area’s housing crunch, which has not only made finding a home difficult, but is pushing property values to record levels. Last month, the shortage helped ratchet up the median Ventura County home price to an all-time high of $244,000.

A small portion of the money is earmarked for renters, but will provide little relief in Ventura County, where the vacancy rate is 1.5% and rents increase an average of 7% a year.

On Thursday, HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced that the agency will dedicate $488 billion to moderate- and low-income residents as part of its Affordable Housing Goals initiative.

California will receive $84 billion, of which $34 billion will be divided among five Southern California counties.

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Under the plan, HUD’s two primary home-financing companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will increase the number of mortgages available to residents over the next decade.

While the plan will make an immediate difference in areas where housing costs are lower, most housing officials feel it will make little difference to low-income residents in comparatively upscale areas like Ventura County.

“In Ventura County, the situation is vastly different than what you’re going to see in other places in the country,” said Barbara Macri-Ortiz, an attorney at Channel Counties Legal Services who specializes in housing issues. “Knowing what I do about the plan, it’s not going to impact the situation for low-income residents.”

Even if applicants were to qualify for the maximum mortgage loan of $208,000, they would find few homes they could buy in the area.

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Of the county’s 21 ZIP Codes, just six had median home prices last month ranging from $147,000 to $200,000. Those ZIP Codes were in Fillmore, Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Santa Paula, according to the La Jolla-based real estate research firm Acxiom / DataQuick.

Prices are expected to rise at least through the next year, due primarily to high demand, shrinking housing stock and less available land, analysts said.

In Thousand Oaks, where the average home price stands about $353,000, officials expect to see little impact from the increased mortgage funding, adding that the problem is only going to become more acute.

“It’s basically a land issue,” said Mark Asturias, the city’s housing and redevelopment manager. “What’s left is so valuable that the price is going to be higher, which makes development costs higher and that translates into higher housing prices.”

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