In the heart of the west side of Santa Barbara a 70 unit apartment complex, appropriately named the Village, stands out as a model for low income housing units throughout California not only in the quality of the units themselves but in the great care taken to improve the lives of the residents who live there. Dr. Jonathan Wilson is the Executive Director of The Turner Foundation, “Our motto at The Turner Foundation is we hope to inspire lives through improving the community. We realize a person’s home is directly related to how they feel about themselves.” Wilson continues, “Just because low income families don’t have a lot of money does not mean they should live feeling beat up and unkept because that is what their home looks like. We believe every family deserved a comfortable, safe and affordable place to live.”
The Turner Foundation, while relatively new to Santa Barbara, has been providing assistance to the low income community for many decades. It was started in Riverside CA in 1958 by Dr. Rev. Albert Turner as the first low income senior citizens housing complex in the United States (approved by President Lyndon B Johnson personally) and granted non-profit status under article 231 of the Federal Housing Administration. That single grant began a profound trend which has now become a staple for senior citizen living throughout the nation. After Dr. Turners passing the foundation decided to sell the complex in Riverside and move to Santa Barbara to begin a different venture.
The complex formerly known as the Casa Perdido apartments, on the west side of Santa Barbara, was purchased by the foundation and the name was immediately changed to The Village Apartments. But changing the name and changing the quality of life for the residents were two very different tasks. Dr. Wilson’s son Todd is the Chief Operating Officer, “When we first acquired the complex I was the manager and I lived on the property so I had a front row seat for everything that was going on and it was pretty depressing,” states Wilson. “The buildings were dark and demoralizing, as was the feeling through the community, it was like the entire community had just given up and was being run by gangs.”
Over the last 7 years the property has had a significant facelift on the exterior of the 5 buildings, the interior of the 70 units as well as the landscape. There have been a number of physical changes to the property as well; the addition of a state-of-the-art playground, a converted 3 bedroom unit is now the Community Center, and another is being used solely for the Tutoring Program. Welcome changes for the tenants according to Andrew Eberhard a new resident who remembers the property from its Casa Perdido days. “It was pretty well understood that this was only a place to come and buy drugs. Families didn’t come out of their apartments because it was too dangerous; the goal was survival not success” says Eberhard.
Not only has the physical features of the Village changed for the better, but the programs The Turner Foundation is subsidizing for tenants is dramatically changing the feel of the community. Every week staff member’s pick-up truck loads of food from the Food Bank and organize and distribute it to residents to help them save money on groceries. Every weekday over 35 Village children receive tutoring in their school work by staff who are trained and certified via LiveScan. Free Counseling by licensed counselors is available to tenants in both English and Spanish. Villagers will soon be able to have their taxes done by a CPA, have a licensed babysitter come and take care of their children for a night or get a ride to the store by a staff member all for free as a part of their ‘rights’ of living at the Village. Mr. Wilson is also working on getting dental and medical care subsidized for the tenants as well as trying to raise money for a new Village Van.
With Police Chief Cam Sanchez on the Board of Advisors for The Turner Foundation, the Village has also taken many measures to make sure the neighborhood is safe as well. Along with surveillance cameras throughout the property, the Village has two security guards on property at all times to deal with residential issues. At the beginning when big changes were critical, the Village housed a sub-station police unit on property which did a great deal to protect law-abiding citizens. Now the complex is much safer, but that safety is not taken for granted. “I have my security guys constantly monitoring the comings and goings of every one and they have my 100% support in using the police to help outside hoodlums understand they need to stay away,” states Mr. Wilson.
As for the ‘quality of life’ at the Village, it’s clear that ranks high on The Turner Foundations list of priorities. Phil Ujano, a longtime Village tenant, had this to say “I remember when the Wilson Family took over at the Village thinking to myself, I wonder if the change will make any difference? Today, it is clear they have. They love us tenants as much as they love each other. They genuinely think what will be best for us tenants and they do it.” Adds Mr. Wilson, “we build and support the growth of community and tenant ‘quality of life’ at the Village because it’s the fastest and most profound way I know to sustain lasting change for the better. When residents see their neighbors lives changing in positive ways and see their children happy and safe their natural tendency is to make better, healthier choices for their lives. I see it every day at the Village and it’s encouraging.”