Neighbors unite to fix up homes of needy: Ventura County CA Star, 11/3/07

By Anna Bakalis

Neighbors helping neighbors is how a group of Moorpark residents are characterizing their new project aimed at fixing homes for those who couldn't otherwise afford it.

The "Let's Make Moorpark Beautiful" project is in its beginning stages, and volunteers hope to fill the gaps for those who might not qualify for home rehabilitation loans from the city.

Painting, hauling, weeding, removing old junk and repairing fences are some of the services the group would like to offer that might lift property values and boost neighborhood morale, said one of the project's founders.

Many people in the low-income areas have applied to the city for funding but have been told they don't qualify, said longtime resident Ernie Bergmann.

"Some of them make too much money, but then they do not make enough to fix their home," he said.

Organizers want to bring in money from local, state and federal agencies, a process that will likely require a nonprofit designation for the group, said one city official.

They need to file an application every year to apply for government funds, said David Moe, city redevelopment manager.

"If they can get it off the ground — anything from the community that can help the city — the more leverage the better," Moe said.

The idea for the home rehab program came out of a recent eminent domain amendment that was rejected by the City Council in a 5-0 vote. Eminent domain is the power of a public agency to forcibly acquire private property at fair market value for public use. The amendment would have re-established a lapsed authority over about a 1,200-acre project area, mainly in the downtown area.

The authority worried residents enough that they packed the council chambers last month to protest the amendment.

A blight study, completed by a consultant who identified areas for possible rehabilitation, was part of the eminent domain discussion.

"There are areas in Moorpark that are eyesores," Bergmann said. "We are not blind to that."

Bergmann has been a Moorpark resident since 1977 and hopes the program will bring people together. It is good to empower neighborhoods and residents, he said.

"I think people have a responsibility to their community," Bergmann said. "I think of them as next door neighbors that live across town."

The group of volunteers has met once to talk about ways to get the project going, and members are looking for help and input on how to kick-start the program.

Ventura County CA Star: http://www.venturacountystar.com