Most might be tempted to dump the whole thing, sell short and minimize the loss. But investors Jeff Argend and his partners did the unexpected.
Putting their commitment to faith ahead of immediate economic concerns, the investors decided to transform the long-neglected City Center Motel, located on the seaside edge of downtown Ventura, into transitional housing for the city's most vulnerable residents. That's a long way from their dream of selling million dollar condos.
The thirty rehabbed motel units will provide homes for those threatened with loss of housing by the current economic crisis and for others who want to pull themselves out of chronic homelessness, providing a stable and supportive environment that will help them to get back on their feet.
Ventura County is no stranger to homelessness; some community members say the temperate climate accounts for the high visibility of those living on the streets. However, with unemployment at nearly 11 percent and a foreclosure rate that's increased over 50 percent in the last year, more people are looking for help and housing they can actually afford.
The religious community in the city of Ventura has done a great deal to provide services to the homeless - handing out food and providing support consistently for years. But there is a lack of actual housing for people who have hit hard times, which is where Argend and his group came in. Local churches had been looking for a site to develop housing for the homeless, and Argend's group - Gold Coast Properties, Inc. - had a location coupled with a strong belief in the cause.
"We started having meetings with pastors and were figuring out if we could actually support the project," said co-owner Harold Powell. "At that point the timing was kind of perfect, and I really felt a calling to serve the community."
Powell and Argend, along with their partners, all of them committed Christians, decided to facilitate the redevelopment of the motel into what is now known as The Kingdom Center. They aim to provide a holistic approach to getting people off the street, including guidance from the Christian community. The residents must attend a church during their stay at the center.
The Kingdom Center is unique in that up to thirty area churches of various denominations are involved, said Powell. Each church "purchased" a room in the motel for around $5,800; they also pledged to contribute $500 each month for the lease and upkeep of the property. Church members then got to work, gutting, remodeling and furnishing the units.
The families or individuals interested in living at the center are screened by Lutheran Social Services, and—if chosen—will be paired with a host church and mentored by members of the congregations who have been trained as life coaches.
The new resident's initial stay is three months. After that, they'll be evaluated each month.
The individual or family is welcome at the Center for as long as it takes to create a stable living situation as long as they are making consistent progress, Powell explained.
"Their lives will essentially be micromanaged for the time they are here," said Barbara Suggs who is the ministry coordinator, life coach trainer and Powell's mother-in-law. The life coaches will work with the families to develop tight budgets, find consistent employment, and offer general support in whatever the family needs, said Suggs.
She has high hopes for the Center. During her initial involvement, she fielded calls for Lutheran Social Services and heard desperate stories of recent hardships.
"People called who had recently been evicted and were living in their cars," said Suggs. "Other people had just lost their cars and didn't know where to go. Some haven't been able to find work; it is just difficult in this economy."
Currently eleven rooms at The Kingdom Center are just about ready for move-in. The quarters are modest but include brand new wooden bunk beds, fresh linens, new paint and carpet, heat and working plumbing, among other features.
Organizers expect the first two families will be placed in the coming weeks. The subsequent move-ins will be done in phases, with a grand opening planned for April.
In the meantime, construction continues with Argend at the helm as the project manager. He is already seeing positive effects in the community.
"For one thing, the churches have really come together to make this happen," said Argend. "But there are four to six guys who come daily to work for free who are homeless, knowing they won't necessarily get to live here, but want to make changes in their lives."
Along with his crew, for whom he provides meals daily, Argend has managed the hundreds of volunteers and donated building supplies that have transformed the space in the last six months.
A marble and granite contractor for 28 years, Argend estimates the team has completed more than $400,000 in improvements with a cash budget of a little more than $100,000. And all of the involvement has been mostly through word of mouth, said Argend.
A far cry from fancy condos, Powell and Argend agree that the opportunity to have a positive impact on the community and to "live their faith," outweighs the profits they may have enjoyed. Luckily, the unfortunate circumstances that dictated this unlikely path gave way to a group effort that seems to have simply worked out.
"I never imagined I'd be doing a project like this," said Argend "But it continues to be an amazing journey."
This post is the first of a series of stories about the Kingdom Center. Shannon Pence contributed to the reporting for this story.