Ideas being implemented elsewhere could serve as housing solutions in Ventura County, according to three speakers who presented their ideas Wednesday at a housing issues forum in Ventura.

Eco-friendly homes, shipping container homes and small “pocket neighborhoods” were pitched as ideas that could ease the housing crunch in Ventura County.

The housing issues forum is held quarterly and is hosted by Housing Opportunities Made Easier (HOME), an organization that promotes improved housing opportunities in Ventura County.

Earthships take eco-friendly housing step further

Andy Bratz, a lifelong Camarillo resident and owner of Draphics Inc., discussed the eco-friendly Earthship home he is building in New Mexico. Earthship homes are fully self-sustainable, meaning they produce their own water, energy and food. Architect Michael Reynolds invented Earthships in the 1960s, and they now are found all over the world.

The cave-like homes are made out of natural and recycled materials, such as tires, glass bottles, reclaimed wood and recycled metals. They include a number of eco-friendly amenities, including contained sewage treatments, solar and wind electricity, thermal heating and cooling, water harvesting, and even food production. According to Bratz, most Earthships have a vegetable garden, and others have fish ponds, allowing families to eat fish and vegetables without going to the grocery store.

Bratz noted that one major advantage with an Earthship is that after building the structure, “you have no utilities fees for the rest of your life.”

Currently, the only Earthship in Ventura County is in Ojai, according to Bratz. Earthships typically use packed earth and recycled materials for the exterior walls, but the Ojai home used concrete because of seismic codes.

“[Earthships] are harder to get approved in large jurisdictions, but they’re becoming more and more popular. . . I built mine specifically in New Mexico because there is a legal subdivision of Earthships there,” Bratz said.

“I think with the push for this type of stuff, like solar and wind power, we’re pushing towards this type of housing and I’m pushing for Earthship homes [in Ventura County].”

Shipping containers redesigned as residences 

Matt Roberts, president of Camarillo-based Quality Containers, shared how shipping containers can be redesigned for housing. Roberts emphasized that shipping container homes do not need to look exactly like a shipping container, and instead can use creative designs to look more like a traditional home.

According to Roberts, one of the challenges of shipping container homes is overcoming the initial image that comes to mind when people picture a shipping container.

“One of the challenges of building these is [aesthetics]. In Camarillo, they said they won’t disallow it just because of the shipping containers, but the home would need to adhere to the building codes and have the Spanish-style look that Camarillo requires,” Roberts said.

In Ventura County, shipping containers are currently only reused as commercial buildings, such as the Ventura Botanical Gardens office and store. Santa Barbara County has a number of shipping container homes, including one recently built for a total cost of $46,000, according to Roberts.

Pocket neighborhoods offer close-knit community

Roy Prince, an architect and blogger at oxnardrenaissance.org, showed a short video about pocket neighborhoods. Pocket neighborhoods are clustered groups of houses or apartments with a common open space.

Homes in pocket neighborhoods are often small, and the neighborhoods usually have fewer than 10 neighbors. This allows residents to form close relationships with a few neighbors, instead of living in a large, less walkable neighborhood.

Prince also stressed the need for civic involvement in housing decisions, and for more variety in Ventura County’s housing options.

“Locally, I would love us here to be more adventurous and look at the properties that we have and think of how we can develop them for empty nesters and young people. We all know that housing is so expensive that our kids can’t afford to live in our towns,” Prince said.

“Our zoning has slowed down this process. We need to interface with people on a regular basis, promoting the kinds of housing that we would like to see.”