July 24, 2008
Economic turmoil puts pressure on Jewish community
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Benny Doustan had always been self-employed. Trained as a structural engineer in Iran, he fled the day the shah left, Jan. 16, 1979, and settled in Great Neck, N.Y., where he spent the next 17 years working in construction and property management.
When the real estate market was piping hot two years ago, friends courted him to build new homes on two parcels they had bought in Woodland Hills. They told Doustan the plans had been finalized and approved, and they offered $250,000. He bit.
But there were problems, and those only got worse as the market cooled. The plans hadn't been approved, and the partners' construction loan application had been denied. Doustan's payment was C.O.D., so the longer the project lagged, the more he had to tap into his savings, and the more he felt compelled to finance building expenses himself.
"After I got all the plans approved -- building, soil report, everything -- and I am already short $70,000," Doustan said, "they applied for a construction loan."
It was approved this time around in April 2007, but then the credit market soured, and the loan was cancelled before being administered.
Doustan finally cut his losses -- 60 years old and single, he became the suddenly unemployed owner of a $457,000 two-bedroom Woodland Hills townhouse, in which he sunk another $50,000 in upgrades and has since watched it fall in value roughly 20 percent.
"I had a very good business; I have been living on my savings," Doustan said. "It's almost reached the end, because everything has a limit. I haven't been paid in two years."
"The worst thing for me is I am not doing anything," Doustan said, eating baba ganoush during lunch last week at the Green Cottage Persian restaurant. "I feel restless. In New York, I used to work seven days a week. I feel worthless."
Doustan now finds himself in the place that many recent college grads do: He doesn't know what he wants to do for a living or how to search for a job, having never even drawn up a resume. But unlike the typical career virgin, Doustan has a healthy home mortgage.
So, four months ago, he turned to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) after seeing an ad in The Jewish Journal. A career counselor helped him draft a resume and enrolled him in a four-week JVS course at the New JCC at Milken for seniors being pressured back into the workforce, as well as a logistics-training program at Santa Monica College. The counselor also is assisting Doustan with the job search.
"I am not financially desperate," Doustan said. "But I am desperate to do something."