Monday, August 29, 2011

How to Make Sure We Keep Our Young Families in Ventura

A few weeks ago, I went out to Temple Beth Torah to observe a service honoring eight 16-year-olds who were finishing the Temple’s confirmation class. It was an emotional evening for me, because these kids are the last of the cohort I have known at the Temple for many years – the younger brothers and sisters of the kids who grew up with my college-age daughter.

It is also, sadly, the kind of event that doesn’t occur nearly as much as it used here in Ventura. The truth is that, as much as we love Ventura as a family, the number of children – and young people generally – is on the decline. And as a community we are getting older. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2000 and 2010:

-- The number of children age 0-9 in Ventura declined by 11%.

-- The number of people between 30 and 50 – typically the parents of school-age children – declined by 10%.

-- The number of people over the age of 50 increased by almost 30%

To a certain extent, these statistics reflect a national and statewide trend toward a “graying” population. It’s also reflective of coastal cities throughout California, where the number of families and children is in decline.

More than anything, however, it might simply suggest a lack of turnover in Ventura’s population. Our kids are growing up and moving away and the rest of us are just getting older and staying here. I’m a good example: In the 2000 Census, I was in the 30-50 age category with a child at home. Now I’m an over-50 empty nester. (At least I was until a few weeks ago, when my Boomerang Daughter returned home … but that’s another story.) We don’t move away when we retire, because we already live in a great place to retire; and since we control new development strictly there aren’t many opportunities for new families to move in.

There was one bright spot in the Census: The number of people age 20-29 in Ventura went up 16%, a much higher figure than we saw statewide. This is a wonderful twist on the longstanding trend of kids from Ventura going away to college and never coming back. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess there are two reasons for this bright spot. The first is that kids who grew up in town are sticking around because they can now go to college locally, especially at Cal State Channel Islands. The second is that young people from elsewhere are drawn to Ventura by the lifestyle and the growing opportunity for interesting jobs in our emerging economic sectors such as high-tech.

Like Ventura, mature communities all over the country are struggling because they can’t keep the people they need to fill important jobs and to give the community a family-oriented vitality. But the rise of the twenty-somethings here in town gives us an opportunity to reverse the trend. If we can hang on to these folks over the next 10 years, then they’ll stay here a long time and raise their families here.

But that’s not just going to happen. In order to keep our young families, we need to nurture the things that young families need – schools, jobs, and housing. We’ve already got the schools. Ventura Unified is an excellent school district with many choices – magnet and charter schools. We also have very good Catholic and Christian schools as well.

As for jobs, we’re working hard on creating a whole new sector of jobs in the “new economy” – high-tech, web development, and related companies that can provide stable, long-term employment. That’s why I’m so encouraged about the fact that our twenty-something population is on the rise. I think they’re coming to town – or staying in town after college – to work in these emerging businesses. We must continue our efforts to grow these private-sector businesses so that young families will have stable jobs.

That leaves housing. It’s true that, for the moment, housing in Ventura seems affordable. But it’s still expensive, especially compared with other places where young families might live. The median home price in Ventura in July was $327,000. That’s down 16% from last year, but it’s still way higher than the state average of $252,000 and more than double the cost of housing in the inland locations where young families typically move these days, like Bakersfield, the Inland Empire, and Las Vegas.

In the long run, we will have to be aggressive in making sure that there is enough housing – and the right kind of housing – for our young families to buy. That probably means building more townhomes and large, high-quality condominiums, because the families won’t be able to afford single-family homes as we did. It also means building more move-down housing for seniors – not just assisted living, but smaller units for older folks in places like downtown, where you don’t have to drive much. Because part of the problem, of course, is that we older folks are sitting on our larger houses even though we don’t have families. More move-down housing will encourage longtime Venturans to move out of their houses and stay in town – and also free up single-family housing for young families to buy so that we don’t have to build more sprawl to keep them in town.

In part, we can’t avoid the fact that we are an aging country, an aging state, and an aging city. We’re lucky that our health is better than our parents and we will be able to enjoy life – and also contribute to our community – far longer than they did. But Ventura remains – as it always has been – a great family town. We all need to work together to make sure that lots of people of all ages enjoy living here.


  1. It's not just jobs and housing. Ventura needs to offer the quality of life that young families seek for raising their children. To me that translates in large part to parks and open space. The City has cut back significantly on park improvements and maintenance to make budget during these tough financial times. As the economy improves we need our elected representatives to assure that funds are put back toward this important government function.

  2. I too believe that we need to try to encourage people to stay in our town. However the "control new development strictly" is a bit of a misconception. I have seen much being built in downtown. Much to my and many friends dismay this is for low income affordable housing. If the control is so strict and the need to encourage young families (or let's just say younger people to buy homes and live in our city), then we need to provide them with an opportunity to live somewhere that is not under the “Low Income” stigma.

    I believe that providing an opportunity for housing that is affordable to the population without the overhanging issue of Low Income or Affordable Housing issue is a good step. Renting Citizens of Ventura would like the opportunity to own in this City have been stymied by the prices. But also the Affordable Housing listings that do come up leave many without this opportunity because of being just over the allowable income levels. What is better for a City’s financial situation? Affordable Housing with incomes that are lower and do not provide many opportunities for spending in local shops and restaurants, or housing opportunities for people with a little more disposable income? How many of the recent building projects downtown are for Affordable Housing? These projects allow for purchasing or long term leasing. But, the big question is how many of these residents have the extra income to spend in our downtown shops and restaurants? We have far too much empty retail store fronts in downtown to ignore our citizens with the extra income and lose them to other cities.

  3. Citizen H, this is a fair question. During the real estate boom, we approved many hundreds of "market rate" (i.e., not low-income) housing units downtown. Unfortunately they did not get built. During the downturn, the only sources of capital to get housing projects built have been from the government, and most of these require some low-income component. I think we need to take the long view and ensure that lots of market-rate housing downtown gets built when we come out of the real estate slump.

  4. We need rent control! $1200 for a ONE bedroom is insane. The only place that is "affordable" is on the Avenue...and I don't care how much the city tries to turn that area into the new "art area" ISN'T!
    It is worn down, it is dirty, and it is not a place that I would want to raise a family!

  5. I can't believe I'm seeing this article! We lived in Midtown for 8 years and my husband works @ Port Hueneme. We loved our neighbors, although we lived in a "pocket" on Channel Drive. We are both in our mid-thirties with a new baby. After assessing the housing market for roughly 4 years we decided to buy a home. We reviewed the school situation more closely and combined with the constant crime, we left all of our wonderful friends and neighbors. We moved to an amazing neighborhood in Newbury Park where we are close to amazing schools, parks and families. Sure, it's not "cool" like Ventura but who wants cool when you have a child to raise and put through school? Ventura is in a tough place trying to be the hip beach community but needs to address the issues where the tax base is coming from...the families. Families want good schools, low crime and affordable housing. I see it, Ventura is appealing to the young 20-somethings, but when they have families and look at the issues...I doubt they put down roots.

    In my 20's I would never have dreamed of leaving Ventura...but it's been the best decision we ever made!

  6. "We also have very good Catholic and Christian schools as well."

    Catholics, Mr. Mayor, are Christians.

  7. Catholics are indeed Christians. What I probably should have said was "Evangelical Christian schools".


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