As a young boy, Mike McGuire watched his father build the home he would grow up in.
During his high school and college years, he learned first-hand about construction while working for a small developer that built rental homes.
“By the time I was 20,” he said, “I could wire a home, frame it and pour the concrete foundation.”
Today, McGuire, 57, is president of the hugely successful Affinity Bank in Ventura.
But he is known as much for his work as an affordable housing advocate as for his business acumen, which helped Affinity grow from an operation with less than $13 million in 1995 to an organization with 151 employees and $718 million in assets.
When it comes to housing, McGuire’s philosophy is simple: A community cannot remain economically vibrant if the average worker is priced out of the market.
This is a growing problem in Southern California, including Ventura County, where the median price for a home last month topped $400,000.
“We’re no longer just talking about providing housing for the poor, but for the working class,” McGuire said.
“It’s getting more and more difficult as an employer to convince people to come here to take a job where the quality of life is diminishing in large part because of the cost of housing.”
Using his knowledge as a builder and a banker, over the years McGuire has served on the boards of a number of housing organizations in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
He is board president of the Turning Point Foundation, which provides housing and support services for the mentally ill, and of the Cabrillo Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit developer that recently built and sold 24 new homes in Ojai for less than $200,000 each.
Cabrillo’s next project is a $15-million apartment project in Simi Valley, where its 70 units will rent from $420 to $1,211 a month. Those who work with him say McGuire knows that housing is often the bridge to a better life for families and communities.
“He sees the big picture of what it takes to maintain a sustainable economy -- you need to have housing for employees,” said Karen Flock, Cabrillo’s development director. “And he’s motivated by being a good person and thinking you need to make a difference.”
McGuire knows firsthand about substandard housing. Originally from Oregon, his family once lived in a rented home with a wood stove and outdoor plumbing.
But his father, a mechanic, wanted more for his family and eventually set out to build a home. McGuire was inspired by his father’s accomplishment.
“I’ve always been interested in housing, since I was a little kid. I was impressed with [my father’s] creativity,” McGuire said.
“So when I got into banking, I got interested in construction financing. I think affordable housing caught up with me early in my career.”
After his discharge from the Army in 1969, McGuire began his banking career in his hometown of Portland. Gaining expertise in residential mortgages and commercial property loans, he eventually became a senior bank executive and chief executive of La Cumbre Savings in Santa Barbara.
About the same time La Cumbre was sold in 1995, McGuire was introduced to Stephen Adams, chairman of Affinity Group Inc., a Ventura-based company with media and recreation interests, including the Good Sam Club, Camp Coast to Coast, Camping World, recreational vehicle dealerships and Golf Card International.
Adams had just purchased a San Francisco thrift for less than $1.5 million and hired McGuire to run it. A year later, the bank’s headquarters were moved to Ventura and the name changed to Affinity Bank.
As the bank grew and prospered, McGuire remained involved in area housing issues.
He served as commissioner of the housing authority in Santa Barbara, loan committee chairman for that county’s affordable housing program and board president of the locally based Transition House, which assists homeless families.
It was while visiting fellow Vietnam veterans in Transition House’s homeless shelter that McGuire strengthened his resolve to help the underprivileged. “That’s when I realized I was in the position to do more,” he said.
Jill Cordover, former director of Transition House, said she remembered McGuire’s negotiating skills when her organization wanted to purchase a property to expand its overcrowded shelter five years ago. With his guidance, the group acquired a nearby building that now has eight apartment units on the second floor.
“He saw the sort of problems we have and wanted to be part of the solution,” said Cordover, whose organization has since acquired a 13-unit apartment building and is constructing six additional affordable units. “He is very much an advocate for the poor.”
Meanwhile, the bank has contributed more than $1 million to various charities and housing organizations, including Jamboree Housing Corp., a nonprofit housing agency in Orange County, a South Los Angeles center for seniors and the disabled and Asian Neighborhood Design, a community development program in San Francisco.
Even when it comes to his personal life, McGuire can’t seem to stop building houses.
McGuire, who has an adult daughter and son, lived in Ventura for the past three years but recently moved with his wife, Donna-Christine, into a home he built in Santa Barbara. He spent three years supervising construction of the home, the 12th he has either built himself or had constructed.
“I’ve been accused of building houses for a hobby,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and doing creative things.”
Although his career is in banking, McGuire said he would remain active as a housing advocate.
“We make our communities much healthier if they work for everybody,” he said, “and that has to start with safe, decent and affordable housing.”