Kenneth James is happy with his new neighbors. So what if some have four legs and antlers and others use their rattles to let him know they are visiting?
As long as they follow social distancing protocols, they are welcome around his home in Bear Valley Springs, near Tehachapi, in the mountains southeast of Bakersfield.
Last summer, Marine Corps veteran James became a homeowner and another satisfied customer of CalVet Home Loans. That, in itself, is quite common. Since 1921, hundreds of thousands of veterans have been living in California homes purchased with financing by CalVet Home Loans. The program in May will celebrate its 100th birthday, having underwritten more than $8.5 billion in loans.
James, however, is one of CalVet’s more unique veteran clients. An artist, he spent more than a decade homeless, living – no, make that surviving – on LA’s Skid Row for much of that time. He served in the Marine Corps in the 1980s, leaving in 1985 after tours of duty that took him to the Philippines, Morocco, Tunisia, and Italy, among other places.
“I started having nightmares about things that happened,” James said. “I didn’t know how to associate and tried to get help from the VA. I had PTSD and depression and moral injury, I checked out for years.”
He came west to Los Angeles, where he found himself homeless on the streets of Pasadena.
“For me, it was hopelessness,” James said. “Years and years of shelters. I was in and out of homelessness to some extreme for more than 10 years.”
He also knew he could not go on like that. James graduated from Cal State Los Angeles during that time (2012). He had two things working in his favor: His artistic talent, and an ability to manage his income.
“I knew my art had potential,” James said. He has displayed it at shows in the LA area.
His ability to save his money became crucial in qualifying for a CalVet home loan. That could only happen, James said, after he finally received VA pension benefits in 2015.
Three years later, he went to the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles, where he met CalVet Program Representative, Brad Pedersen. James by no means is the first veteran to go from homelessness to home ownership through CalVet Home Loans program.
Many veterans need guidance on how to manage money so that they can be successful as homeowners, Pedersen said.
“We call it ‘course correction’ – how to get on a path to home ownership,” Pedersen said. “They need a little extra time and help that conventional lenders won’t give them. Walt [Sanders, CalVet’s senior property agent] has instructed our loan officers to work with these veterans, to give them that pathway.”
James showed he had that kind of financial self-discipline. Some veterans need several years to get their finances in order to qualify for a home loan. He saved enough money over the years to make the deal doable.
“It was over two years, from the day he walked into [the] Bob Hope [building] and introduced himself, to the day the loan closed,” Pedersen said.
James received pre-approval and began looking for homes. He toured at least a dozen and looked at many more online.
He finally found one he liked and could afford in Bear Valley Springs, and the deal closed on July 11, 2020.
“I’ve gone from Skid Row to 24 windows, nine doors, three bedrooms and three baths,” James said.
He is still in the process of furnishing it, and hopes to someday create a place where other veterans can visit or stay.
“A getaway for veterans,” he said.
That’s truly the spirit of the CalVet Home Loan Program; veterans helping veterans. While the program started 100 years ago as a thank you to World War I veterans for their service, those who borrow and repay their loans today keep the program going and make it possible for future generations of veterans to use the program; hopefully for another 100 years.