Steep Rents and Health Problems Squeeze Family of 7 Living in Garage


Paola Chaparro, her husband and five children live in a 20-by-20-foot room in a partitioned garage in Santa Ana, a place without plumbing.

The seven family members squeeze into 400 square feet, sleeping in bunk beds and surviving on potatoes, ramen noodles and food handouts. They seldom use the kitchen and bathroom of the adjoining house, doing so mostly when the residents are not home.

It’s the best they can do in Orange County’s tight housing market, where median monthly rents have climbed to more than $1,000.

“My daughter tells me: ‘When I grow up, I’m going to have my own room,’ ” said Chaparro, 36. “It makes me feel so bad. I wish there was something I could do.”


Chaparro rents the garage for $480 a month from a relative. Her husband earns about $300 a week stocking the shelves in an auto parts store. Chaparro has a blood ailment that has made it difficult for her to work full time, but she collects bottles and works some weekends at a hotel.

The children, who range from 3 to 15, wear donated clothes. The younger children’s toys fit in one plastic supermarket bag.

Miriam Gonzalez, a health worker at Maternal Outreach Management Systems, MOMS, has worked with Chaparro to try to get her the expensive medicine she needs. Her blood does not coagulate well. Besides the mother’s health problem, Gonzalez said, the substandard housing is taking a toll.

“The housing is affecting the children. They are embarrassed. They don’t want their classmates to find out where they live,” Gonzalez said. “The family is really trying, but things keep happening to them. They are in a real bad spot, worse than anyone could imagine.”


Civic Center Barrio Housing Corp. President Helen Brown said landlords and cities have effectively stymied creation of affordable housing in a county that depends on service workers for the survival of its economy.

In the end, Brown said, the families suffer: “Overcrowding creates major problems. Even if it’s a one-bedroom, there’s nowhere for a child to concentrate on homework, nowhere for a parent to have a moment of peace,” she said. “It creates tensions.”

But Chaparro, a native of Toluca, Mexico, said she can’t see how they could ever live in an apartment.

“We see the rents of more than $1,000 and we think, we could never pay that; that’s our whole income,” she said. “We think of looking for something else. But we’ve spent days looking and looking, and we come up empty-handed and even more frustrated.”


The Los Angeles Times is highlighting local programs and organizations that address needs of youths and families such as the Chaparros in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Last year, the paper established The Times Holiday Campaign to help raise money for programs in Southern California.

The program is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, which includes The Times’ long-running Summer Camp Program.

The McCormick Tribune Foundation will match the first $500,000 in donations at 50 cents on the dollar, and The Times will absorb administrative costs.



Tax-deductible donations: Gifts (checks or money orders) should be sent to L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File No. 56491, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6491. Please do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made at: Contributions of $25 or more will be acknowledged in The Times unless a donor requests otherwise. For more information about the Holiday Campaign call (800) 528-4637 (LA TIMES), ext. 75480.