Visionary Home Builders

Not Just Housing: Creating Opportunities for Central Valley Neighborhoods to Thrive

A yellow house with trees in front

As Community Vision partners with communities to create flourishing neighborhoods and build economic power, one of the most important needs to address is housing. Access to quality and affordable living spaces is a key pillar for healthier and safer neighborhoods, and opening the door to housing can unlock more economic opportunities for residents. 

While affordable housing is a critical issue throughout the country, California’s housing crisis is especially dire. Coupled with the growing income inequality and wealth disparities, the need for affordable housing continues to require creative and effective solutions. 

For years, Community Vision has been a locally invested partner with community-centered affordable housing developers. As a Community Development Financial Institution, we leverage capital and expertise to advance the development and preservation of affordable housing in central and northern California. 

One of our partnerships is with Visionary Home Builders of California (VHB), a nonprofit developer headquartered in Stockton, CA. Founded in 1983, VHB was born out of the vision and determination of a small group of farmworkers in the Central Valley. 

“Over 40 years ago, we were just a little tiny seed of farmworkers from Michoacán that wanted an alternative to living in public housing,” said Carol J. Ornelas, CEO of VHB.  “They were looking for home ownership. They worked in the fields, very long, treacherous hours, but even making that type of money, they still were looking at that home ownership opportunity.”

Since those early days, VHB has become a trusted nonprofit housing developer and social services provider in the Central Valley. The nonprofit has built and rehabilitated more than  1,400 units of rental housing and more than 900 homes for first-time homebuyers. 

VHB is also one of the only HUD-certified homeownership counseling agencies in the Central Valley, and the only agency for all of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. While major metro areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco have a number of nonprofit affordable housing developers, VHB is one of the few doing this work in the central part of the state.

As a partner, Community Vision has provided land and property acquisition financing for several of VHB’s projects since 2015. 

“Part of the good feeling at the end of the day is knowing that I’m trusted,” Ornelas said. “We’ve been able to produce these units in a timely manner, even through the ups and downs. Community Vision is a lot of the times the first ones in—you’re there with us through our initial pains in order to get a project moving.”

In 2021, VHB completed Liberty Square, an affordable housing community just north of downtown Stockton. For this project, Community Vision provided a $1.25 million loan to acquire a vacant office building that VHB transformed into 74 affordable units through a creative adaptive reuse renovation. Community Vision’s loan utilized zero-interest funding from the Golden State Acquisition Fund, a revolving loan fund managed by the State government, to provide a below-market interest rate for 100% of acquisition costs. 

The complex provides housing for low-income families earning between 30% and 60% of Area Median Income (AMI), with a focus on veterans.  Liberty Square also features amenities such as solar energy, energy-efficient appliances, a computer lab, community center, a daycare and a teen center for residents, with 10,000 square feet of space for services.

Community Vision also provided acquisition financing to help VHB assemble four contiguous properties in downtown Stockton for the development of Grand View Village Apartments, which will provide 75 units of affordable housing as well as 10,000 square feet of commercial and community space. A much-needed grocery store may be the anchor tenant.

Last year, Community Vision helped finance two more projects that will provide more than 120 additional units of housing. The first project is a 15-unit apartment complex that will be renovated as transitional housing for formerly houseless women and their children who are survivors of domestic violence. A local nonprofit, the Women’s Center, will provide supportive services for residents.

In addition, Community Vision also provided a $1.15 million land acquisition loan to support VHB’s purchase of a property in Merced, again utilizing the Golden State Acquisition Fund.  VHB plans to build 108 affordable housing units for families, with 40% dedicated to farmworkers. Similar to VHB’s other housing developments, this property will also provide on-site supportive services for residents, including a computer lab and a Head Start daycare center.

“I don’t know today if we could say all we do is address housing, because in today’s environment, it’s housing and health, jobs, education, transportation and climate,” said Ornelas. “We take the holistic approach of having all those resources in our communities, not only for the people that live in our communities, but for the surrounding neighborhoods too. When you see what a healthy community can look like, you just want to do more of that.”

Building quality affordable housing in the Central Valley has had an additional effect: the creation of jobs closer to home. For many construction workers living in the Valley, they may normally spend two hours or more in each direction to the Bay Area for work. By creating more opportunities for jobs locally, VHB is also supporting enhanced quality of life in the community. 

“I hear folks that are working on projects here saying, ‘We love that you have created these jobs. It’s been years since I’ve been able to go to my son’s football game or my son’s soccer game because I’m always on the road.’ We’re really not only just producing housing, we’re producing quality of life for the construction workers,” said Ornelas.

In addition to housing, VHB also advocates diligently for the needs of Central Valley communities at both the local and state government level as “champions of the Valley,” according to Ornelas. 

“Community Vision has been a great partner in answering the call here in the Valley. When people say, ‘Well, Stockton doesn’t have a CDFI,’ we say, ‘Yes, we do,’” said Ornelas.