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Bank donates Carinalli house to homeless agency


An aging, two-bedroom ranch house at the west edge of Santa Rosa, seized in foreclosure proceedings from bankrupt financier Clem Carinalli, will soon become a housing complex for people who have lost their homes.

The house, which sits on two acres and is valued at $290,000, was donated by Luther Burbank Savings to Community Housing Sonoma County, a nonprofit that has helped create 179 units of low-income housing since 2003.

The donation of the foreclosure property is unprecedented in Sonoma County and possibly nationwide, housing advocates and bankers involved in the deal said.

"For us, it's a godsend," said Georgia Berland, executive director of the Sonoma County Task Force for the Homeless, who brokered the deal between the bank and the community housing organization.

Berland, who founded the housing task force 30 years ago, said San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank officials have never heard of a financial institution donating a foreclosure property to an agency that serves the homeless.

"I'm very proud that we could do it," said John Biggs, president and CEO of Luther Burbank Savings. "I think it meets a real need in the community."

He called it one of the few good outcomes to emerge from the 2009 implosion of Carinalli's financial empire, which triggered the largest personal bankruptcy in Sonoma County history and "hurt a lot of people," Biggs said.

Carinalli's assets, including 248 North Bay real estate properties, lost more than half of their $466 million value in the housing market collapse of 2008, according to bankruptcy documents.

Luther Burbank Savings, which had loaned Carinalli $19.5 million, foreclosed on 19 of his properties and sold all but one — the Guerneville Road parcel. Biggs said he had hoped, as part of the liquidation, to "do something special" with one property.

The 1,748-square-foot house, built in 1941, needs substantial renovation, including a foundation and connection to city utilities, said Paula Cook, executive director of Community Housing Sonoma County.

Her organization plans to seek support from Santa Rosa's housing trust fund in January for funding to refurbish the house by next spring or summer to provide permanent housing for three disabled adults who are homeless or living in shelters.

In two to three years, Community Housing hopes to develop up to 24 more units on the property, located behind the Raley's shopping center at Guerneville and Fulton roads.

The site, just inside city limits, is flanked by a subdivision and large rural lots. The proximity to shops and to a bus route makes it ideal for housing people with disabilities, and getting the land for nothing makes the project remarkable, Cook said.

"We're very grateful," she said.

A Sonoma County homeless survey in January found 4,539 homeless men and women, up 40 percent from the prior survey in 2009. A third of the homeless cited job loss as the primary reason for their situation, and 55 percent said it was the first time they had been homeless.

Nearly half (48 percent) said they had a disabling condition, including physical disabilities, mental illness, severe depression, alcohol or drug abuse, and chronic health problems.

Berland said the county needs more affordable housing for people with disabilities who are ready to leave shelters.

Considering the glut of foreclosed homes in the county, which have accounted for about a quarter of all home sales this year and continue to depress prices, Berland said she hoped other banks might follow Luther Burbank Savings' example.

Biggs said he thought that was unlikely, calling the donation the result of "a unique set of circumstances," including the cluster of Carinalli foreclosures and the home's marginal appeal to buyers.