Ventura County Star (December 15, 2015)


Rick Schroeder: Many Mansions is akin to Bailey Building and Loan

his editorial originally appeared in the Ventura County Star.

Each Christmas season, millions of Americans watch a movie about affordable housing. They think it’s a movie about a would-be angel who helps a man see what life would be like if he had never been born. The man — George Bailey — learns that it really has been a wonderful life and Clarence gets his angel wings.

It’s a feel-good movie, but at its core, this is a movie about affordable housing. George Bailey and his father run the Bailey Building and Loan, which provides loans so middle class people can afford to live in a safe decent home. In the scenes in which George “was never born,” he finds that Bailey Park has been replaced by a place called Pottersville, a series of ramshackle houses not fit for humans. Indeed, because there is no affordable housing, the fabric of the entire community is different. There is crime, alcohol abuse and unemployment.

But with affordable housing, Bedford Falls is a thriving community with jobs, schools, respect for law enforcement and a sense of community pride.

Many Mansions is much like the Bailey Building and Loan. It provides opportunities for hard-working people who do not make a lot of money to live in a decent, safe environment. It gives their children a chance for a stable home so they can attend school, get help with homework, and succeed in their studies so they can earn higher income. Many Mansions projects are a valuable factor in creating the opportunity for middle class lifestyles in communities in Ventura County.

Unfortunately, the notion of affordable housing has a negative connotation in many conversations. A well-run affordable housing developer (and most of them are well-run) is an important community partner.

Let’s be clear: the cost of housing is extremely high in Ventura County. A typical household must earn at least $29.90 an hour to afford an average two-bedroom apartment unit (“Out of Reach: California” — National Low Income Housing Coalition).

Many Mansions means at least these five things to Ventura County:

  1. We provide affordable housing. We provide over 1,400 hard working men, women and children with a safe roof over their head and at cost within their income.
  2. We change lives. We give people dignity and help them back on their feet. Many of our residents came to us only after a job downsizing. Through our assistance, they get good housing. They get a job. Their kids go to school. Without us, they are on the public dole.
  3. We are the community. We were founded by this community. Our board members, staff members and volunteers all live and work in the community.
  4. We are good neighbors. Challenge your stereotype of affordable housing and ask our neighbors or the police whether they have any trouble with our residents. The people who live at Many Mansions are grateful for the opportunity and they follow the rules of neighborly behavior.
  5. We are important to the local economy. Rather than accept public assistance, our residents work in our community. They spend their money at local business. They create jobs.

We will begin 2016 looking for new opportunities in communities throughout Ventura County. When you see us coming, if you’ve never heard of us before, just give us a chance. We can’t promise Bedford Falls, but we can promise a good neighbor in your town.

Rick Schroeder is president of Many Mansions, an affordable housing developer based in Thousand Oaks.