50 YEARS. 50 STORIES.
There have been many great moments in PSHH history…
1970 | Jeanette Duncan forms Peoples’ Self-Help Housing
In 1970, in San Luis Obispo, CA, a small group of leaders, including Jeanette Duncan, joined together in concern about the lack of affordable housing for low-income and special needs households. The group learned about a federally sponsored program available to nonprofit sponsors to finance the construction of owner built, low-income housing, which led to the founding of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing! Jeanette Duncan led the organization as Founder and President/CEO for over 40 years, seeing the organization through extensive evolution and growth.
1973 | First Self-Help Homes Completed
1973 marked a historic moment in PSHH’s namesake: the first self-help homes were built! This project was completed in Los Osos and was one of three developments in the ‘El Montecito’ project. Although our records do not show much about this group of owner-builder families, it is believed that one family is still living in their home today – 47 years later. We’d love to reconnect with this pioneer group so if you have information to share, please let us know!
1979 | 100th Self-Help Home Completed by PSHH
Self-Help Housing has been the sustained heartbeat of our organization, taking place since our earliest days. Over the years PSHH’s Home Ownership program has seen many milestones, including the 100th self-help home completed – Guadalupe I!
As well as being one of our earliest projects, Guadalupe I was also PSHH’s first self-help build in Santa Barbara County. Financed in part by the USDA Office of Rural Development, this beautiful, new construction tract gave 34 low- to very low-income families the gift of a safe, welcoming place to call home and in which to build a stable future for their loved ones. These families became part of a legacy within PSHH that has led to over 1,200 homes built throughout the Central Coast!
1989 | PSHH Breaks Ground on Ocean View Manor
With home prices and living costs soaring in the coastal community of Morro Bay, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing sought to ease the burden with the construction of a new 40-unit garden apartment complex for seniors and individuals with disabilities. Beginning with a shovel in the ground and made possible in part thanks to a grant from the California State Coastal Conservancy, Ocean View Manor gave safe, comfortable spaces to its future residents, who otherwise would have been forced to move elsewhere. With accessible, service-enriched spaces and beautifully manicured surrounds, Ocean View Manor continues to connect today’s residents to essential health and social resources, ensuring a better quality of life for our tenants and their loved ones.
Pictured left: Then County Supervisor Bill Coy and Morro Bay Mayor Rose Marie Sheetz – 11/23/1989.
1990 | Valentine Court has its Grand Opening
Valentine Court, a Santa Maria property for seniors and those living with disabilities, was opened in 1990. Sarah – and her canine companion Penny – are currently living at this accessible PSHH community.
Sarah is hearing impaired and before coming to Valentine Court, she had lived with friends, in her car, and in a garage. Sarah’s challenges preclude her from working and greatly limit her contact with the outside world. Since moving in, she has been able to live independently and communicate more easily.
Valentine Court has provided the support and services needed for Sarah to stay connected to family and friends and to live a vibrant life.
Photo by Jayson Melom, Santa Maria Sun
1991 | Mark Wilson & Juliet Mendoza Hired
Mark Wilson and Juliet Mendoza joined the PSHH family in 1991 and have been working passionately towards our mission ever since! Mark Wilson was originally hired as a Program Manager for Peoples’ Self-Help Housing and Property Management and progressed over the years to become the Senior Project Manager for Multifamily Housing Development. Juliet Mendoza, originally hired as a Secretary, has become a vital asset as a Financial Analyst II for PSHH’s Accounting & Finance Department. With over 28 years of service, Mark and Juliet are valued leaders on the PSHH team!
1999 | Victoria Hotel Renovation & The Legacy of Mr. Lee
When the City of Santa Barbara approached Peoples’ Self-Help Housing to rehabilitate the historic Victoria Hotel, much of the city’s downtown district was still reeling from the effects of the 2008 recession. The California mission-meets-art deco building, which housed both commercial tenants on the ground level and very-low-income residents upstairs, was not exactly conducive to community engagement. The residents – primarily seniors, veterans and former homeless – felt isolated from each other and the outside world and lacked access to important support services.
When PSHH took on the renovation project, they kept the building’s longtime manager, Mr. Sun Chong Lee (who sadly passed away in 2015), affectionately known to residents as simply “Mr. Lee.” Mr. Lee – a Chinese immigrant who as a young man made an extraordinary and solitary journey to America while war brewed in the Pacific – worked closely with PSHH and provided valuable input throughout the process, resulting in the construction of a new community kitchen where residents could rest comfortably and forge friendships over a shared meal. Until his retirement in 2006, Mr. Lee and his beloved dog Mui were fixtures around the complex and surrounding area and could always be seen tending to residents’ needs. During the renovation, Lee volunteered to help PSHH staff in providing counseling and educational day trips. Most of all, he adored the American tradition of Thanksgiving, and delighted in helping PSHH staff provide residents – many of whom who could not afford to celebrate – with festive gatherings and lavish holiday spreads: a tradition in keeping with most PSHH rental properties to this day!
After the dedication – which was attended by Congresswoman Lois Capps, PSHH co-founder Jeanette Duncan, and Towbes Group founder Michael Towbes, a driving force behind the renovation – tenants now benefited from access to onsite supportive services, health and wellness resources, and opportunities to socialize, giving them a new lease on life! PSHH would like to express its gratitude to Mr. Lee for his undeniably important role in making the Victoria Hotel the charming refuge it is today, and for his many contributions to our mission.
2002 | McCune Foundation Funds First Learning Center
Made possible by a visionary gift of $20,000 from the McCune Foundation, PSHH’s first learning center opened its doors at Casas de las Flores in Carpinteria in 2002.
The Education program’s first cohort of 80 students has gone on to achieve numerous educational and professional accomplishments, with many continuing to stay involved with their “home” learning center, paying it forward to new generations of learners. Today, PSHH’s 10 learning centers provide services to over 365 students across Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
The McCune Foundation over the years has helped sustain many of PSHH’s vital programs, funding educational and social services, resident empowerment, and community enrichment projects. PSHH extends its gratitude to the McCune Foundation for its continued support.
2004 | Home Ownership Comes Full Circle
Building the “self-help way” has become a family affair for Kehtzia and many of her immediate relations. Prior to qualifying for the program, her family lived in a small one-bedroom home, one which over time had been shared with aunts, uncles, cousins – six other families in all.
Knowing the immense commitment needed to build a home, the family came up with a joint plan of action and applied for PSHH’s Home Ownership program. During the building process, family members took turns at the work site and helping out in one another’s homes. When one was digging trenches for the utilities, another would be babysitting; when one was plastering, another would be preparing meals for the group. In this way, every family member helped out and in 2004 Kehtzia, age 11, moved into her new home in San Miguel’s Cottonwood division.
This early, stable start stood Kehtzia, and PSHH, in good stead over the years. It allowed her to volunteer at PSHH’s Canyon Creek Apartments Learning Center, helping children in math and literature, and led her to earn a B.S. in Human Resources from Stanislaus State University.
Most recently Kehtzia has brought her talents to PSHH’s HR Department, providing invaluable knowledge in recruitment. Over the years, Kehtzia’s family have built six homes between extended family members, truly proving through this amazing joint effort that “it takes a village.”
“It truly feels like my life has come full circle. I get to work for the organization that gave my parents, aunts, and uncles a leg up in the world, and helped me achieve my dream of being a first-generation Mexican-American college graduate!”
Pictured: Kehtzia’s mom (top row, third from right) and cousin (bottom row, second from right) during the construction of their self-help home.
2006 | Canyon Creek Grand Opening
Home to one of PSHH’s San Luis Obispo County learning centers and a health screening clinic, Canyon Creek serves the community of Paso Robles through a diverse offering of supportive services designed to promote resident resiliency. From college advising to illness prevention workshops to K-8 music education, each day the grounds are bustling with lively activity! The 68 low-income and farmworker households who call Canyon Creek home enjoy onsite access to a network of compassionate professionals invested in their success and wellbeing.
One of Canyon Creek’s residents, a father of one young son, suddenly found himself on the brink of homelessness after an unexpected medical emergency requiring hospitalization. Temporarily unable to work and therefore pay rent, he feared the worst. That’s when social workers at Canyon Creek stepped in to assist. Through the Resident Assistance Fund, they were able to provide him with immediate rent assistance while he recovered from his illness. The father, still a Canyon Creek resident today, has since made a full recovery!
2010 | Michael Towbes Named Donor of the Year
Many of our supportive services could not be made possible without our faithful donors and supporters. In 2010, during the celebrations of our 40th anniversary, PSHH recognized Michael Towbes, a leading philanthropist in Santa Barbara, as ‘Donor of the Year’ at our Taste of Hope fundraising event for his thoughtful and tremendous contributions to our education programs. Michael served on The Duncan Group Board of Directors from 1997-2017, an affiliate board of Peoples’, utilizing his housing-development experience and passion for philanthropy to advance our mission.
A proud partner and supporter of many non-profits, Michael spent much of his lifetime giving back to the community to see those around him flourish. As co-founder of Montecito Bank & Trust and the founder of The Towbes Group and the Towbes Foundation, he was a key driving force behind the millions of dollars donated to local non-profits through those organizations.
Since his passing in 2017, Michael has left an incredible legacy here at PSHH and throughout the Central Coast. As he once told the Business Times, “If I am going to be remembered for anything, it will hopefully be what I did for the community in terms of serving nonprofits.”
Thank you to Michael for inspiring and helping so many, and to The Towbes Foundation, The Towbes Group, and Montecito Bank & Trust for their continued support!
2015 | Casas de las Flores Grand Opening in Carpinteria
Carpinteria Camper Park started out as a fun camper park for vacationing families in the 1960s. However, by 2004, poor management of the property had led to trailers beyond repair, improper sewer connections, unhealthy living conditions, and high levels of criminal activity and violence. The City of Carpinteria asked Peoples’ Self-Help Housing for help.
After gathering feedback from the community, PSHH began the extensive process of rebuilding the property with 50 newer trailers, security fencing, and functioning utilities. Supportive services were set up onsite, with licensed social workers offering family counseling, crisis intervention, and community advocacy. Community-building events were organized and one of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing’s first learning centers was established, beginning as a simple outdoor classroom (pictured).
At last, in 2015, after a brand new construction, the dilapidated camper park was reborn as Casas de las Flores, showcasing 43 spacious apartments and approximately 3,500 square feet of community space including a classroom with a computer room. The original housing on wheels was replaced with supportive housing on permanent foundations.
2016 | PSHH Resident Leader receives Dorothy Richards Award
Elvia Salazar, Resident Leader at Los Adobes de Maria II in Santa Maria, has been a force of change as a community mobilizer and advocate for her fellow residents and neighbors. Elvia successfully helped protest an elementary school district change that would have forced children to attend a different campus over a mile away from their current school, which was only blocks from their neighborhood. She rallied parents to collect 6,000 petition signatures and share their grievances with the school board. Elvia inspired PSHH staff and her community so much, that in 2016 she traveled to Ohio to receive national recognition as an awardee of the Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership! This accolade is presented to community members who ‘have invested their energies and talents to bring about specific change that positively impacts their neighborhoods and communities’. In the years since, Elvia has continued to create positive changes and inspire others in her role as a Resident Leader!
2019 | First College Club Student to Complete a Masters Degree
Lizbeth Hernandez was a student in the Youth Education Enhancement Program from fifth grade until she graduated from high school. She left Los Adobes de Maria in Santa Maria to attend Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles. During her time there, Lizbeth studied abroad in Spain, was a top-three finalist in the Hispanic College Quiz, and became a strong advocate for minorities. She graduated with a B.S. in Social Work and eventually returned to her roots on the Central Coast working as a College Club Coordinator for Peoples’ Self-Help Housing!
Lizbeth is the first student from PSHH’s Education Program to not only complete a master’s-level education, but to graduate from an Ivy League school. In 2019, she received a Master of Social Work from Columbia University!