TUSTIN : Home Offers Solution to High Rents

Most of the boardinghouses that once provided inexpensive shelter in Orange County have fallen to bulldozers, but one remains in Tustin.

Nestled beside the Santa Ana Freeway on Main Street is the Lestonnac Residence, a two-story beige building where women can rent small rooms for $260 a month, including meals.

Although boardinghouses like Lestonnac are highly unusual now--it is the only one listed in the local Yellow Pages--local officials hope housing like it will soon become more common.

Officials have formed a task force to encourage the development of "single-room-occupancy hotels," a modern-day name for boardinghouses. Such housing is desperately needed in Orange County, they say, where many people who are now unable to afford apartment rents end up homeless or in poorly maintained, ill-equipped hotels.

The Lestonnac Residence is run by the Sisters of the Company of Mary Our Lady, an order of nuns founded by St. Jeanne de Lestonnac. Some of the nuns, who also run a free clinic in Orange and schools in Tustin, Orange and Santa Ana, live upstairs. The order also has a boardinghouse in Los Angeles at which about 45 women live.

"We just find that it's a good thing to provide for young women," said Sister Ernestine Velarde.

The dozen rooms in Tustin are almost always full, Velarde said, with the stay varying from a month to several years.

For some of the residents, Lestonnac was their first home away from home, a chance to have a place of their own without paying a hefty deposit.

"I wouldn't have moved to any other place if it hadn't been here," said Betty Valencia, 19.

For others, the Lestonnac Residence provides welcome relief from exorbitant apartment rents.

"It was perfect for me," said Lisa Cunningham, 27. "I was in a really high-rent place. It was beautiful, but I was stressed out." Moving from her Laguna Beach apartment to Lestonnac means less rent and less commuting for Cunningham, a nurse at UCI Medical Center in Orange.

Cunningham became engaged shortly after moving to Lestonnac, an informal tradition, according to several of the residents.

"Sister Carmen and her mother pray for all the girls to find husbands," said Karen Kelly, a nurse at Disneyland.

Kelly, who affectionately calls the residence "Chateau St. Jeanne," said she moved there about 2 1/2 years ago to escape the noise of a home with 11 brothers and sisters while she studied to become a nurse.

The rooms, formerly used by nuns, are small, about 10 feet by 12 feet. Each comes equipped with a bed, a bookcase and sink. Showers are down the hall. Residents have use of a laundry room, a central living room and dining area and a pool and Jacuzzi.

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