Noozhawk: Westside Apartment Complex Provides Second Beachhead for Neighborhood Transformation
Turner Foundation, supporters purchase ailing San Pascual Apartments with plans to improve culture and environment
Down a dead-end street on Santa Barbara’s Westside, amid the steady hum of traffic from the nearby freeway, hides a quiet apartment complex with an inspired mission.
On a recent afternoon, the Rev. Dr. Jon Wilson drove up the lane, sandwiched between parallel-parked cars, and was gladly greeted by the general manager of the Village at Santa Barbara.
A smiling Wilson, who owns the 70-unit complex, along with wife Patty, as directors of the Turner Foundation, continued a tour of the complex, as per his daily routine.
A baseball game played on the community center television, but the place was deserted, just like the adjacent music room, where violin and piano lessons are taught.
Wilson soon saw all the action had moved to the education center. A handful of young students read books and solved math problems, while a teacher tutored others writing in workbooks or on computers in colorfully decorated rooms.
The scene served as stark contrast from nine years ago, when the complex at 524 W. Canon Perdido was called Casa Perdido Apartments, but was known locally as a place to buy drugs.
“At that time, parents wouldn’t even let their kids play outside,” Wilson said.
The Turner Foundation spearheaded that turnaround as a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization providing quality, affordable housing, support programs and hope to the underserved.
The foundation hopes to further affect the community after recently buying a second Westside complex, imagined as a footprint of the first and fittingly called the Lighthouse.
The Turner Foundation’s story began at California Baptist University in Riverside, where Patty Wilson’s father, the Rev. Dr. Albert J. Turner, worked at the college and established the organization in 1958.
The Rose Garden Village Foundation collected donations to open the nation’s first affordable senior housing units of the same name.
Patty Wilson, a retired teacher, and her husband, a pastor at a Presbyterian church in the San Fernando Valley, renamed the nonprofit in honor of her late father and sold the housing complex back to Cal Baptist in 2005.
The Wilsons had a lead on a new project up in Santa Barbara, with help from two of their three sons, Todd and Dean. All three graduated from Westmont College — as did Patty — which was where they learned of the Westside neighborhood plight.
“Their needs were different,” Jon Wilson said, noting 70 percent of tenants at the Village are single moms with kids. “There’s a cycle of poverty that people get into and can’t really get out. The best way to break that cycle is through the next generation.”
The Turner Foundation bought the Village in 2005, spending big bucks on general upgrades and landscaping, as well as instituting a zero-tolerance drug policy.
They added a playground and basketball court, offering dance lessons and field trips to Dodgers games or to the nearby beach — a place many kids hadn’t yet visited.
The Wilsons hired a property manager and handpicked staff familiar with Westside culture. They partnered with Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez to add an on-site substation in one of the units, which has since been converted to a music room.
Partnering with Common Ground Santa Barbara County, the foundation housed homeless in apartments rented at below-market value rates or as Section 8 housing.
Calls to police fell from one per day to maybe one a month.
“We have a higher calling for the people who were there,” Patty Wilson said. “They got the message. We just began to care about them.”
The Turner Foundation flew well under the radar until recently, when the Wilsons went to Radius Commercial Real Estate & Investments for help finding another complex and to Montecito Bank & Trust for a loan to buy it — both of which jumped on board.
“This is one of the most rewarding transactions I’ve ever been a part of,” said Radius principal Steve Golis, who brokered the purchase.
“My job is to help others find financial success. But on the occasion when you get to work with people like Patty and Jon, who are so humble and unassuming, and their staff and board, who live and breath to give others the opportunities they need for success, that’s a really, really good day.”
The pride Wilson showed while at the Village became something more like hope when he parked his car on the street next to the 45-unit Lighthouse complex at 1502 San Pascual St., now the San Pascual Apartments.
“It took nine years to get the Village where it is,” he said. “There’s a lot of work here.”
The balconies of one and two-bedroom apartments served as makeshift storage units, and a sidewalk with wooden fences on either side was at the center of the complex — so no shared community space, Wilson noted.
Plans are currently going through city channels, but will invariably take time.
The Turner Foundation hopes the city will fund some of the needed major improvements, so the nonprofit can begin establishing the facilities and sharing the staff and programming that families enjoy at the Village.
The Wilsons’ work so impressed Montecito Bank & Trust officials that they readily embraced the mission and values as their own.
“In our community, we know this is a really important problem that needs to be solved,” said Janet Garufis, the bank’s president and CEO. “It felt very satisfying in a lot of different ways beyond lending money.”
Garufis and the Wilsons also hope spreading the word about the Lighthouse might soon start a multiplier effect.
“If apartment holders get equally excited, it could change our city,” Patty Wilson said.
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