Ojai gets its first new apartment complex in over 10 years
The small city of Ojai has many features that attract potential residents: a bustling downtown filled with local businesses, nearby hiking and bike trails, and views of surrounding mountains.
But those looking to move to Ojai might have difficulty finding a place to rent. The city went more than 10 years without building any multifamily units, a streak that ended this month with the opening of Craftsman Village. The luxury apartment complex includes five live-work units and one purely residential unit.
Building housing in Ojai is historically difficult, with residents pushing back against new development years before the current housing shortage.
But low production of multifamily housing is also a statewide issue. Only “a handful” of California cities built more than 50 new multifamily units between 2013 and 2017, according to a recent paper from the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation.
People love Ojai, it’s a great community, people love to live up there, but there was literally nothing new built in the multifamily sector in 10 years.
“There’s a lot of hoops with Ojai building and compliance,” said Lester Cook, an Ojai-based real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty who is representing the property. “I don’t think it’s specifically an Ojai issue, though; it’s a statewide issue. There’s no housing. It’s a supply-and-demand problem. There’s not enough building anywhere.”
‘Tremendous demand,’ but no new apartments
Ojai represents an extreme example of low multifamily development — before Craftsman Village, the last time the city saw new multifamily development was in 2008. David Schumann, managing director at Raven Ridge Development, one of the developers of Craftsman Village, says getting permits for the project took more than seven years.
“It is just the process the city of Ojai makes you go through, the level of scrutiny and the public hearings, and nothing moves real fast in Ojai, so it just takes a long time,” Schumann said. “We work in other markets, and it is always a struggle getting through the process with different cities, but it is particularly difficult to get a project done in Ojai. They have a lot of slow-growth policies, and it takes a long time to get the public and city’s support.”
Joseph Fiss, Ojai assistant city manager, said the 10-year span without new multifamily developments could be due to a lack of available land in the city or possibly just a lack of applications. He also pointed to the city’s residential growth management plan, which caps the number of new residential units allowed in the city each year. The cap is typically around 15 or 16 units per year, although Fiss notes that the city never gets close to that.
This “slow-growth” mindset and an emphasis on avoiding traffic impacts can make development difficult in the city. Slow residential development has kept Ojai’s population low: While Ventura County’s population increased by 14% in the past 18 years, Ojai’s population decreased by 2.3%.
“There’s a tremendous demand for multifamily living in Ojai. People love Ojai, it’s a great community, people love to live up there, but there was literally nothing new built in the multifamily sector in 10 years,” Schumann said.
High demand for apartments doesn’t always result in new development. According to the Terner Center for Housing Innovation paper, “even the cities with the highest rents permitted almost no multifamily housing” between 2013 and 2017, “illustrating how poorly housing markets in California cities are functioning.”
From 2008 to 2018, Ojai issued zero multifamily permits per 1,000 residents. In 2018, Ventura County as a whole issued 0.7 permits per 1,000 residents, while the cities of Camarillo and Thousand Oaks issued 5.6 permits and 0.4 permits per 1,000 residents, respectively.
While several other Ventura County cities had zero multifamily permits in 2018, most issued permits more recently than Ojai.
Are more apartments coming to Ojai?
According to Fiss, Ojai could see more apartments in coming years as it meets its affordable housing requirements.
“I think we will see more apartments in the future, especially as we meet our obligation to provide more affordable housing. However, the density and design will be appropriate for our community standards,” Fiss said.
Because the Craftsman Village project has only six residential units, Schumann doesn’t think the development will “put a serious dent” in the demand for multifamily housing in the city. He is doubtful that the project represents a shift toward more multifamily housing in the city.
“Ojai is a slow-growth community. That’s how they are, and that’s how they want it, and I don’t see that changing anytime in the future,” he said. “There’s no way they’re going to open up to large-scale development in Ojai. It’s going to be more small projects like this one that are going to take years to get through.”
Schumann noted that one advantage of building in Ojai is that in a community without any other new apartments, Craftsman Village doesn’t face much competition.
Craftsman Village units range from $3,500 for a 1,161 square-foot one-bedroom unit to $6,250 for a 3,164-square-foot three-bedroom unit with a live-work office. Real estate agent Lester Cook says it is difficult to compare the rent to other units in the city since “there are no new apartments in Ojai.”
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“There’s a strong demand for rentals, and there’s been a lot of interest and a lot of showings for these,” said Cook, who added that three units are already filled.
A large empty lot sits behind Craftsman Village, with the Ojai Valley Trail running between the apartments and the lot. Cook gestured to the empty space, noting it could be a good place for more apartments or affordable housing. He doubts anyone will take it on.
“I understand that people don’t want Ojai to change too much,” Cook said. “They want to keep it quaint and small, but we also need housing.”
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