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Home Not a Haven : Unable to Qualify for Aid, Jaspal Jammu Is Trapped in Quake-Damaged Residence

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the one-year anniversary of the Northridge earthquake approaches, Jaspal Jammu feels like a squatter in his own home.

Jammu and two of his three children quietly moved back into his still-damaged house on Balboa Boulevard in August as the bank began foreclosure proceedings and city officials declared it unsafe with a yellow tag, saying the damage “constitutes a hazard or substandard condition.”

But despite the ominous situation, Jammu said he has nowhere else to go. He has been unemployed for two years, laid off from a management job with Xerox. As a result, he has not been able to qualify for enough government disaster assistance to cover the estimated $100,000 repair bill on his 2,000-square-foot ranch-style house.

Jammu is one of an unknown number of hidden quake victims, who despite private and public efforts still find themselves struggling a year later with an ongoing disaster.

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“The roof is leaking, the chimney is down, some of the windows are still broken and there is a large crack in the foundation that runs through the house,” said a somber Jammu. “But I’m here because I don’t know where else to go. It’s been hell.”

Jammu initially received $3,400 in disaster assistance from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He stayed with friends for a few days and then moved into a Tarzana apartment. But he was rejected for a Small Business Administration loan because without a job he did not have the ability to repay the loan.

As with others who are rejected by SBA, his application was forwarded to the state Individual and Family Grant Program, a last-resort state disaster assistance program, which awarded him $10,000.

But with only one-tenth of what he needs, Jammu is no closer to being able to repair his house. Financially crippled and still unemployed, he let the payments on his $160,000 mortgage slip. But hopeful he can raise additional repair money, Jammu has not spent any of the $10,000. In August, he moved out of the Tarzana apartment and back into his damaged house to save money.

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But he may be running out of time even there.

His lender originally planned to auction off his house last month, but Jammu got a postponement until March.

Meanwhile, officials with the city building and safety department have been sending him letters ordering him to submit plans and apply for permits to make the repairs or the city will take legal action. In a worst-case scenario, this could mean jail time for him or the demolition of his house if he does not comply.

In addition to the cracks in the foundation, airborne pieces of asphalt from the gas explosion punched holes in the roof. A 20-pound piece of the street sits on the floor of his den near where it landed, a kind of souvenir and conversation piece. Another larger piece remains on the roof, holding down a tarp to cover the hole.

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With the recent spate of cold weather, Jammu has relied on portable space heaters for warmth, fearful that his gas furnace may also be unsafe. Foundation cracks are covered by carpet and the mess inside has long since been cleaned up. Both inside and out, the appearance of the home belies the severity of damage.

“It’s been hell,” Jammu said. “But I’m here because I don’t know where else to go.”

Richard Sanchez, an inspector with the city building and safety department, said officials are a long way from razing the house or prosecuting Jammu. He said Jammu has not responded to any of their letters, and the city is primarily interested in knowing his intentions because the damage could pose a danger to the public.

Jammu said he has not responded because he has no money to make the repairs, a head-in-the-sand strategy that city officials believe will only make matter worse.

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Jammu may still have hope. He has not applied for a city housing department-administered, no-interest loan program for property owners rejected for SBA loans because he said he was not aware of the program.

The program, which allows homeowners to repay the loan over 30 years with the first payment not due for five years, provides homeowners with up to $50,000. However, Solomon Banks, who oversees the program for the city, said that in a unique case, housing officials may be able to loan more money with City Council approval.

Banks said that nearly 500 homeowners have applied for such loans. So far, only 31 have been granted, but Banks said others are likely to be funded. He said a loan would be denied only if there were federal liens on the property or the house was about to be lost in foreclosure, a provision that could weaken his chances.

Meanwhile, Jammu, who has also had to deal with divorce proceedings this past year, is still hopeful he can save his home on a stretch of Balboa Boulevard, where several empty lots remain as a reminder of the devastation that engulfed the neighborhood a year ago.

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“My children go to schools in the area,” Jammu said. “We’ve lived her for 12 years. I love this neighborhood.”


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