Written by Lois-Ann (Jackson) Kurt
In June 1979, Rev. Colm O’Ryan, Assistant Pastor of St. Paschal Baylon Catholic Church in Thousand Oaks, asked me, a member of their Christian Service Committee, to assist him in housing a large family of nine. Rev. O’Ryan told me that he had housed several families prior to this, on a plan in which the Church paid the balance of rent after the family paid its portion. The families applied for area housing (HUD) certificates, and when receiving HUD funds, paid 30% of their income for rent, while HUD paid its own portion up to the “fair market rent.” The Church then paid the balance of the asking rent to the tenant’s landlord, whose rent was usually higher than what HUD allowed.
Rev. O’Ryan told me that, at his Bishop’s instruction, he could no longer continue housing families, which is why he appealed to me. I had a real estate sales license since 1961, received my Broker’s license in 1975, and was a “million-dollar” salesperson with West Oaks Realty in Thousand Oaks.
After finding housing for the family of nine, and helping a few more families the Church recommended, an idea occurred to me, which I carried to the Council of Christian Churches in Thousand Oaks, which was to house families, seniors, and disabled people, who could then apply for HUD funds. I mentioned my idea to Frank Schillo, a Financial Advisor in Westlake Village, who had raised the $8000 from local churches required to buy a house for the Manna Food Bank.
Frank Schillo wrote concerning this idea to fifty-one churches and temples in the Conejo Valley, inviting them to a meeting in his office.Present were the head of the Area Housing Authority, pastors of several churches, a temple in Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village, and Rev. O’Ryan and I – about 25 people in all. At the meeting, I explained my vision for a housing-assistance foundation, as did Frank Schillo.
Subsequent meetings were held where discussions focused on forming a non-profit corporation. At one meeting in the City Manager’s office, several pastors, the head of HUD, Marvin Sosna, the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle Editor, and I were discussing what to name the organization. After a long silence from those gathered, it was Mr. Sosna who suggested the name from the New Testament passage in John 14:3
– “Many Mansions.”
Mr. Schillo paid his attorney $500 of his own funds to craft the Articles of Incorporation. Joseph Leggett, a Thousand Oaks broker, offered $10,000 so that we could start housing families, seniors, and disabled persons. I was appointed to start this process. As an employee and Board member (and also Secretary of the Board), I was soon paid with City funds a token $65 per lease plus travel expenses for each family we housed. Besides interviewing applicants and locating housing, I did the bookkeeping. This was a complicated process, as funds coming from the tenant, the Area Housing Authority, churches, a temple, and generous sponsors, along with full rent going out to landlords, plus monthly reports required by the City of Thousand Oaks.
I found housing for many families, some soon-to-be-evicted tenants, totaling about 250 households over the first three years. In about 1982, Schillo Gardens Apartments was built, with a construction loan furnished from City Redevelopment Funds, 20% of which had to be redirected toward the low-income population. Our original program continued, as it has to this day, now managing leases for the hundreds of apartments which Many Mansions has built.
In the eleven years I leased homes for Many Mansions, I appealed to Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, and the Salvation Army to help our tenants pay rent and oftentimes also procure food, clothing, furniture, and more, including utility payments, some from churches. I provided applications and arranged transportation to the Manna Food Bank, Medicare and MediCal offices, and doctor visits. I took late-night phone calls when toilets were plugged or sinks wouldn’t drain. St. Paschal Baylon Church adopted three Vietnamese families, one of which had ten children. Most of these children later became physicians now practicing in the U.S.
Over many years, Frank Schillo and I, as well as Frank Nekimken of Temple Etz Chaim, some Lutheran pastors, and the head of HUD in Thousand Oaks, all spoke at meetings of the City Council and Planning Commission to obtain funds for our project, and to obtain permissions to build. I presented very complicated applications to United Way, and to acquire Community Development Block Grant Funds, in order to fund our Corporation’s outgoing rents.
At first, the City provided us a leased office in the Janss Mall, and hired Ed Nelson as Administrator and an accountant to assist with the books. Soon, Frank Schillo’s wife Marian raised funds to construct the “Under One Roof” building at 80 East Hillcrest in Thousand Oaks. This building then housed the Many Mansions office, the offices of Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services, and other organizations. Later, Joe Smolarski was hired as Administrator, as well as another staff member just for accounting.
I worked for Many Mansions from 1979 until 1990, when I left to return to teaching, graduating from Mt. St. Mary’s University in 1998. I attended CSULA for another ten years toward my Master’s degree while teaching for LAUSD and St. Joan of Arc in West L.A. I recently composed a volume of 90 sonnets, and in the Preface I asked readers to consider donating to Many Mansions.
I continue to be proud of the work so many of us did in establishing Many Mansions, and as it approaches its 40th anniversary – and I approach my own 90th year – I could not be more elated by what its President, Rick Schroeder, and the Board of Trustees and Associates continue to accomplish. Our vision which began in 1979 continues to flourish, as Many Mansions expands its horizons in Thousand Oaks and other areas of Ventura County. It is truly a model for communities nationwide to replicate!