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Where Dream Is Still Possible

Times Staff Writer

In John Barros’ four-bedroom house in Lancaster, a special room is set aside for God.

Barros goes there each day to pray and thank the Lord for providing him with a home of his own, where he and his wife, Narda, can raise their three sons and keep a dog in the backyard.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Sep. 03, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 03, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Lancaster housing: In some versions of a story in Thursday’s California section about a new housing development in Lancaster, the age of Jessica Gamero’s oldest child was incorrectly stated. The child is 8, not 20.

“This is the house of my dreams,” Barros said earlier this year, sitting at the kitchen table in his sparsely furnished, two-story home. “I see my kids coming down the stairs in the morning and they look so happy. It’s what I pictured a home should be.”

The Barros family moved to the SkyView housing development in February.

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Soon, other families moved in, drawn by the strong pull of affordability: The development is one of the least expensive places in Los Angeles County to buy a new house.

Even amid signs this week that the red-hot Antelope Valley housing market is slowing -- including the sale of building giant KB Home’s stake in the massive Anaverde housing project in Palmdale -- it remains a haven for people who cannot afford houses elsewhere.

SkyView is like numerous housing tracts that have sprung up across the Antelope Valley, offering new, spacious, suburban-style homes at prices significantly lower than buyers can find closer to the big city. Such developments have lured families who never thought they could afford to buy a home.

Barros and his wife had looked to buy in the San Fernando Valley, where they had previously lived. But the houses they could afford were either too run-down or in bad neighborhoods where they did not want their children growing up.

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Nothing could beat the ambience and prices they found in the Antelope Valley. And nothing could beat SkyView, where the couple bought a four-bedroom, three-bath stucco house for $330,000.

Most of the 79 families who bought in the development in the last year are first-time homeowners, said Jeannie Stott, a spokeswoman for MBK Homes, the project’s Irvine-based developer. Many, like Barros, are immigrants trying to forge new lives in the United States. Some have children. Others are empty-nesters seeking to downsize.

But one common desire has brought them together: They were willing to move to the high desert, 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, to find a house they could afford.

SkyView’s homes are significantly more affordable than the typical new home in Los Angeles County, where the median price in July was $504,000, according to La Jolla-based DataQuick Information Systems.

North L.A. County -- with its vast tracts of raw land that stretch across the high desert -- has long been the region’s bastion for affordable housing.

The decision this week by KB Home to sell its 49% stake in the 5,200-home Anaverde development in Palmdale raised concerns that the boom might be cooling. But most real estate experts said the cheap land and reasonable home prices will continue to be a draw in the north county.

In July, the median price of a home in Lancaster, for example, was about $329,000, according to DataQuick. With the Antelope Valley expected to add 210,000 residents in the next 15 to 20 years, the region is the only place other than the nearby Santa Clarita Valley seeing major new development.

“They are building a lot out there,” said real estate agent Sandy Erotas, who has sold homes in the desert valley for 20 years. “Great families are moving up here. Just because they don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean they’re not nice families.”

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The residents of SkyView have made sacrifices for their piece of the dream: longer commutes, time away from families, a sometimes oppressive desert landscape and a dearth of city-style stores and attractions. But for the most part, residents say the tradeoffs are worth not having to rent anymore and owning property with a mortgage they can afford.

Barros, 35, who grew up in Ecuador and moved to the United States 15 years ago, never thought he would own a home in this country. Barros is a certified respiratory therapist who works for clinics that conduct sleep studies. He lives in the United States legally and would like to one day become a naturalized citizen, he said. His wife is a nursing assistant who works in a Lancaster convalescent home.

He rises each weekday about midmorning to spend time with Narda, 40, and their boys, Jonathan, 13, Robert, 12, and Anthony, 11, before leaving for work in the afternoon. His overnight job requires him to drive to sleep clinics from El Segundo to Westlake Village.

But Barros puts a positive spin on his commute, saying it gives him the chance to see beautiful countryside and sunsets as he navigates Southern California’s deserts and foothills.

Narda gets home from work before he leaves, saving them the expense of child care and ensuring that one parent is always with the children when they are not in school.

Barros said he and Narda decided to buy a house three years ago, after he had worked steadily for five years and they felt secure enough financially to take on the commitment. A deeply religious man, Barros said he prayed and God brought them to east Lancaster.

“I closed my eyes and said, ‘God, I want a house,’ ” Barros recalled. “I hadn’t even seen the inside, and I put down a deposit. I consider this a gift from God.”

Now, each of his boys has a bedroom of his own instead of sharing a cramped apartment in the San Fernando Valley. The only place within the 2,200-square-foot house that is off-limits to the children is the loft, where Barros has hung framed Bible verses on the walls and set up his stereo system. There, he spends quiet time listening to Music and praying.

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SkyView seems out of place wedged between busy Avenue I and a neighborhood of homes built in the 1950s and ‘60s, many with fading grass and old furniture in the frontyard.

Signs advertising model homes stand across the street from a used car lot and the backside of an aging industrial strip, containing a motorcycle shop, a cluster of sheds and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post. To the north, a chain link fence topped with barbed wire separates the backyards of homes in SkyView from a run-down trailer park.

The visual blight does not seem to bother Alfredo and Veronica Rios, who along with Alfredo’s brother, Bernardo, bought a three-bedroom, two-bath house for $238,000. They made the purchase through a low-income plan offered by the developer and the city of Lancaster.

Alfredo, 29, works the overnight shift as a Rite-Aid clerk in Lancaster, and Veronica, also 29, at a McDonald’s in Palmdale. Both earn little more than minimum wage. Bernardo, 30, works as a day laborer in construction.

“We couldn’t afford a home anywhere else,” Alfredo said.

Alfredo and Veronica were not seriously looking to buy, but they heard about the low-income program and made a call.

“We wanted to buy a house, but we didn’t know how long it would take to find one we could afford,” Alfredo said. “When I saw these, I thought it was possible. We couldn’t let go of this opportunity.”

Before moving to their one-story home on Elm Avenue in February, Alfredo and Veronica had lived in a mobile home in Palmdale, which they sold to come up with the down payment. Although they had tried living in Arizona for a while, they wanted to settle in the Antelope Valley because their extended family lives there. They plan to raise their 1-year-old son, Axel, in their new home.

“We did it for him, too, so he could have more space,” Alfredo said.

Alfredo, who came to the United States from Mexico in 1986, planted grass seed in his backyard earlier this year. Now his family is enjoying the fruits of his labor.

A couple of doors down live Elias Garcia, 27, his wife, Jessica Gamero, 21, their seven children and Jessica’s mother.

Garcia buys and sells used cars, and his mother-in-law is a supervisor for a seafood company in Vernon. Jessica stays home with the children.

“This is a new life for my kids, and a better opportunity,” Garcia said.

Their children attend the local public school, Mariposa Elementary, a two-minute drive away.

Jessica’s mother sold the 1908 Victorian that she owned in Montebello, where they all used to live, to buy their new house in Lancaster. Although their friends and family still live in the San Gabriel Valley, Garcia said he was glad his family moved because something was always breaking down in the old house, and big trucks would rumble up and down the street at all hours.

He also saw more gang members and violence in Montebello than in his new neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of peace and quiet here,” said Garcia, who bought his four-bedroom-plus-loft for $399,000 on the low-income program. “There’s more space. It’s a whole different feeling.”

Although the Antelope Valley may not have all the attractions of Los Angeles, Garcia does not miss the hustle and bustle of city living.

“We’re people who like to dedicate our time to our kids and the house,” Garcia said. “To us, this is fine.”

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A few doors down from the Garcias live Jorge Chavez, his wife, Gladys, and their 6-year-old daughter, Stephanie. They moved to the neighborhood this spring after deciding their house in Baldwin Park was too big and they wanted to get out of the city. They saw an ad for SkyView in La Opinion, Los Angeles’ Spanish-language newspaper.

“There’s not as much traffic and smog here,” Jorge said of his new hometown. “Every weekend, our relatives come out to visit us; we have barbecues. They’re happy for us.”

With the profit they made from the sale of their home in Baldwin Park, they hope to open a small party-supply store in the Antelope Valley that Gladys would manage. Jorge works as a truck driver for a produce company in downtown L.A. They paid in the low $300,000s for their three-bedroom, one-story house.

The new development is also home to Mark Glaum, 23, and his fiance, Jennifer Becerra, 20. Glaum, a union construction worker, bought their three-bedroom, two-bath house on Woodgate Street for $265,000.

He and Becerra plan to start a family in their first home, after they are married.

“I didn’t want to waste my money on renting,” said Glaum, who lived with his parents in Palmdale before buying the house. “My buddies are spending $1,400 a month just to live in an apartment.”

Glaum’s two-car garage is filled with mountain bikes, snowboards and Jet Skis. A table saw sits in the middle of the space.

Although he is not particularly fond of the surrounding neighborhood, he loves his own house.

As he stood in his garage earlier this year, his arm in a cast after a snowboarding accident, he shrugged and said, “Home is what you make it.”


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