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Visionary Home Builders: Building the Dream

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There’s an old expression: “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” No matter what your position or circumstance, if you work hard, anything is a possibility.

In 1983, Carol Ornelas, owner of Visionary Home Builders, had a grand dream to create a business in construction. She was one of the few women in homebuilding at the time, with very limited prospects, but as fate would have it she encountered others with dreams just as big; that would change everything. In Sierra Vista, California, just past Merced, Carol met eight farm working families who wanted to maintain a permanent residency in the United States, rather than migrate from farms and return to Mexico. At the time, farm workers weren’t making more than 50 cents for a bucket of tomatoes and migrant living conditions were substandard. Establishing financial backing, Ornelas was able to help these families secure funding to build houses and in turn help one another construct their homes. Such a collaboration allowed both parties to achieve their dreams. “They gave me a steppingstone, and I gave them a steppingstone,” Carol said proudly as she saw her dreams of homebuilding made into reality. Later that same year, those farm working families became first-time homeowners on Marabis Court in Stockton, California.

After that exchange, Ornelas recognized building houses was more than constructing four walls; it was in addition creating a home, a place in which families could establish themselves, form stability and a future. By providing that steppingstone, Carol understood families with stability had more opportunities that could lead to better lives. “Many went on to have their own business, other jobs progressed and so did their children,” she said, referring to the first families. Their goal of achieving the American dream pioneered a new method of affordable and quality housing for other farm workers and Visionary Home Builders came to be.

From Home to Community
As the word spread and more families wanted the same opportunities, Carol realized not all could afford or achieve permanent placement the same way. The demand for housing was high and many farm workers had growing families with limited childcare. While leasing apartments was common, conditions were substandard due to poor upkeep or high-crime locations. “We saw the conditions where they were living; some didn’t have floors, they were just dirt,” she said, recalling cases of poor housing. As a result, she had to consider housing that was efficient even if it didn’t mean single-family homes. “We didn’t have enough permanent housing for everyone, so we ventured into multifamily agreements.”

Carol knew that with the right planning she could create more than just cheap apartments and add richness to the lives of each tenant, while improving and adding value to the surrounding neighborhood. “I wanted to create housing that wasn’t considered projects,” she said. And the way she did this was to carefully consider the needs within the community.

One such development was Casa De Esperanza, a multi-unit complex built with stucco and tile and designed with a Spanish style. Rather than installing the basics, which most property owners often used, her tenants received energy-efficient appliances, community rooms, a community computer lab, even a daycare center to help families thrive and gain opportunities to better their lives. Casa De Esperanza would serve as a community rather than a slum; it’s a place farm worker would be proud to call home. Thirty-five years later, Casa Esperanza continues to thrive, and the foundation is as strong as ever. Carol also partnered with Head Start, a federally funded program to serve children ages three to five, providing education and childcare; many of her communities now have a Head Start as the heart of their community. Other communities include Valle de Sol and Villa de San Joaquin. With these improvements, she created a community.

Expanding the Vision
Visionary Home Builders has also opened its business to help other communities for families other than farm workers to support safe and affordable low-income housing. Carol takes pride in knowing that because of the stability in these communities, some of the residents have elevated their careers, which might not have been possible without stable housing. Former Stockton City Council member Jesus Andrade and former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs were both prior residents of Visionary Home Builder communities.

Today, 40 years later, Carol looks back at the success of helping families in the San Joaquin Valley and affirmed that her dreams of homebuilding far exceeded her expectations, because Visionary Home Builders has helped others achieve their own dreams. “When you stabilize housing, you give residents the opportunity to do things with their lives.”

To learn more about Visionary Home Builders, visit