Burbank family has a new lease on life and meals

Soon after Douglas Villalta found out he'd snagged an apartment in Burbank's new affordable housing project, he bought a set of woven straw place mats.

His family of four, with its newest addition just 8 months old, would finally have the space to sit down every night for a proper family dinner.

For years, Villalta took his plate to the living room at dinner time, while his wife, Evelyn, ate in their tiny kitchen, and his daughter, Genesis, now 12, ate while watching cartoons in the one bedroom they all shared.

But Douglas Villalta made his wife a promise. Once they moved to a bigger apartment, they'd eat dinner together every night, like they had both done as kids.

The Villalta family was one of the first plucked off a waiting list to move into the city's new "Sycamore at Catalina" housing project on Catalina Avenue.

Since the Villaltas moved in to their two-bedroom town home on Aug. 10, the place mats have been used every night.

The $9.7-million housing development, which consists of 20 eco-friendly rental units varying in size and price, was the last affordable housing project funded by the now-defunct redevelopment agency.

"We feel very blessed," said the 38-year-old father.

When Douglas Villalta found out mid-July his new apartment would be ready in just a few weeks, his excitement was tempered. He still had to come up with a $900 security deposit.

Once he did, with the help of some friends and family, a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders. The Villaltas had been vying for a bigger apartment for years, but when Evelyn Villalta found out she was pregnant last March, it became a necessity.

In recent months, Douglas Villalta was lucky if he got four hours of sleep between his newborn son waking up to be fed three times a night, and having to wake up at 4 a.m. to go to work at LAX, where he typically works 56 hour a week for American Airlines.

"We were really crammed," Douglas Villalta said, adding that their bedroom barely had enough space for two beds, a crib and one dresser. "When (moving) was finally a reality, we were just super stoked."

While the extra space means more cleaning, it also means more privacy and comfort. The pair is still getting used to all the apartment's amenities, including the washer and dryer — they no longer have to change $6.75 to quarters every week for laundry — and a dishwasher.

"We've never had one — we're still washing dishes by hand," Villalta said, with a laugh.

But slowly, it's sinking in that this will be their home for years to come. "We love it," Douglas Villalta said. "It's just beautiful."


Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.


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