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Gary and Della Hall are praying for a miracle.

Without one they will lose Ceres Christian Terrace.

The 67-unit Ceres Christian Terrace at 1859 Richard Way is set to be auctioned off at noon Friday on the steps of the county courthouse. The complex, where the Halls have been in management since the 1980s, has been ordered into a foreclosure sale by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as the result of a seven-year legal battle between operators and a church denomination.

HUD pledges that Terrace residents, who are all over the age of 62 and making less than $19,000, won't be displaced. The Halls, however, are worried about jobs for their 15 employees.

"I get emotional," said Della Hall, manager of the complex for eight years. "It's my life. It's not just a job to me. It's our ministry. The Bible tells us to take care of the orphans and widows."

For years the Halls have been forming bonds with residents, learning their likes and dislikes, understanding their personalities and knowing the family members who come calling.

"I can tell you the ones who are diabetic and if I need to go down there and make sure they're okay in the morning. (If) somebody else walks in they're not going to know that. We know them personally. It would mean a lot if we lost it."

Talk about foreclosure has been hushed for a year when HUD sent letters to the tenants noting the possibility of a foreclosure. The Halls have assured the tenants that they are secure since HUD requires the facility to remain open as affordable housing. The Halls vowed to not go public until the foreclosure notice appeared in print earlier this month.

"I've wanted to get it out," said Della. "We've been very silent because we have 67 tenants here we love. We've been trying to protect the tenants. They will be taken care of but you know they get so upset."

The Halls explained that the foreclosure stems from a lien placed against the Terrace, which is connected to a disputed 1981 promissary note. A review of the history of the complex is required to understand how the mysterious note comes into play.

The complex started when James "Jim" Gaches, then pastor of Ceres Christian Life Center (later renamed First Pentecostal Church of God) on Hatch Road, had the idea of building quality, affordable apartments for seniors after seeing one of his church's elderly women living in a rat-infested dwelling. The idea was to have his church's denomination, Pentecostal Church of God (PCG), become the project sponsor. At the time, HUD rules wouldn't allow a faith-based sponsor, so Gache formed a non-profit corporation, the Ceres Christian Terrace Corporation. It was successful in obtaining FHA funding to build the $3.3 million facility.

The corporation purchased a two-acre building site for $90,000 after securing HUD assistance to subsidize rents for seniors living on SSI. Because of those subsidies, most seniors today pay just $203 per month for one-bedroom studio apartments that ordinarily would cost $1,018.

Gaches said PCG never had any deed to the Terrace.

In 1988 Gary Hall became pastor of the church as well as president of the Terrace board of directors. He also oversaw the church's private Christian school on the premises. Troubles arose when Hall proposed an idea to build a $800,000 gym for the school.

"Our congregation felt like that since they paid off the church building, I appealed to the organization to give us back our deed so we could get some equity to build a new gym for our school," said Gary Hall. "They wouldn't do that."

Hall was dimissed by PCG but remained in charge of the Terrace as board president. Hall continued pastoring in his home and later formed another church.

In 2002 PCG countersued the Terrace corporation in an attempt to take possession of the Terrace. PCG also produced a 1981 promissary note which had been filed in 2000. The disputed note calls for payment of $500,000 to PCG.

"It's called fraud," said Gaches from his home in Nashville. "I've seen a copy of a copy of it and my signature was on the copy. But I did not sign it. You can do anything with a computer."

Gaches said his board never voted to authorize any such note to be signed.

He said the note called for payment of $500,000 within 10 years of its 1981 date. That would have made the note due in 1991. It was not filed until 2000.

"It mysteriously appeared. I knew nothing about it. Nobody can explain what that amount is supposed to be for."

The corporation fought the validity of the note saying it had not been signed by a majority of the board. The Terrace later abandoned the fight when legal fees exceeded $120,000.

The Terrace and PCG went to mediation whereby the note was reduced to $450,000. Hall said his board wanted the matter behind them and wanted to refinance the mortgage to satisfy the note. According to Gary Hall, HUD refused to allow the non-profit agency borrow or refinance saying the note was not legitimate. Getting out of the HUD agreement was not an option, he said, to protect the seniors' subsidies. The Terrace looked for other financial solutions but found none, he said.

PCG tried some other legal maneuvers to gain control of the Terrace, said Hall, but the corporation filed bankruptcy to delay things. That's about the time when the Terrace learned that PCG placed a lien against the Terrace. Hall said as soon as he learned about the lien, he alerted HUD officials. The presence of the disputed lien was technically a violation of the Terrace's contractual agreement with HUD, so HUD initiated foreclosure.

Della Hall said the corporation has been faithful in loan payments; the unpaid balance on the Terrace stands at $2.15 million.

"I just want the public to know that it's not being foreclosed on because we didn't pay our taxes or pay our bills," said Della.

Although they knew of the impending foreclosure, the Terrace board continued with a $57,000 re-roof project.

Rev. Hall plans to observe what takes place at the auction on pins and needles. Several scenarios could take place:

• A non-profit or private corporation may buy the facility under the pledge that it remain affordable senior units. Whether the existing management and staff of 15 remains up in the air.

• If no bidders materialize nor can produce financing on HUD's time schedule, the secretary of HUD can opt to appoint another non-profit group to take over the Terrace.

• PCG could remove the lien, something the Halls have been praying would happen and allow the Terrace to plead for HUD to intervene.

PCG will not have the $450,000 lien satisfied if the Terrace is foreclosed on, said the Halls.

"If PCG were at this time to remove the lien," said Della, "HUD would probably say, "okay it's alright if you guys just want to manage it.'"

"HUD has seen our hearts," noted husband Gary. "And I think that HUD is working for us."

Della Hall feels the denomination is "all about winning."

"They wanted everything," she said. "They don't care about this place. None of those people have even been here to see the Terrace. Since 1982, none of them have even walked through these doors. They didn't even come to the dedication."

Hall said since taking control of the church property that PCG closed the school after an 18-year run and have neglected the grounds. She showed pictures of closed up buildings and the the former school site signing severe neglect.

"It's disheartening to me," said Della. "We totally paid for a building. They walk, they come into something that is clear and free and let it go garbage. It was beautiful ... Now they're trying to get this one and have it turn out like that?"

The denomination went too far, she said, when her husband was asked to sign a statement saying he would never enter the Hatch Road church property.

"He couldn't even go there to attend church. He couldn't attend the funeral of a friend because they could have him arrested. How is that for treating a brother?"

The impending foreclosure has upset Rhonda Stroud, who has been working for the Terrace for 18 years.

"I will be devastated," said Stroud, who is head cook at the Terrace's cafeteria. She remembers as a student at the now defunct Ceres Christian School when her class walked to the Terrace construction site to see the first wall go up. "My mom has worked here. My brother has worked here. My niece has worked here. My sister-in-law has worked here. It's been a tradition in my family."

Stroud said last year she called Roy Little, once the presbyter of the Central California District of PCG, to plead for the Terrace's management.

"I told him, "All it takes is for one person to stand up and do the right thing,' " said Stroud. "He told me he didn't know what to do about that."

Little declined to comment on the matter, only saying the dispute dating back to the time when Hall tried to lead his congregation to taking the deed of the church.

Officials with the Clovis headquarters of the Central California District of PCG declined to talk to the Courier about any aspects of the case.

An unsigned letter received last month at the Terrace underscores the feelings of animosity toward the Halls. One of their detractors wrote: "Twenty-five more days and you're out. Tick-tock, tick-tock."

Powerless to only watch, Gaches said he's grieved that the baby he helped birth is falling victim to a "big mess" caused by an organization that he calls spiteful and greedy.

"They do business that way," said Gaches. "That's why I am no longer associated with them. It's morally wrong. It's legally wrong. It's a total mess.

"I've watched them destroy men's lives more than one time. It's sad because as a church we're supposed to be in this for people. They don't care about people. This is a money issue. The Terrace now is worth several million dollars."

Word about the sale has leaked out and interested parties have been checking out the property - from a distance. The Halls have been doing their best to shield prospective buyers from the seniors.

"My tenants are my most important thing. We don't want them getting upset. They aren't going anywhere."