A CLOSER LOOK -- Waiting for home improvement

Lolita Harper

COSTA MESA -- She bundles her son up tight, as the cold wind hits her

in the face while walking out of her Westside home.

Enedina Sarabia wants to get out of the house for a minute, she says.

Away from a crowded kitchen with chipped paint, where a few children sit

doing their homework. Away from a packed living room where the younger

kids play -- and consequently fight over the toys they were playing with.

"Look at this place," she says in Spanish. "It's falling apart."

The scene takes places outside Sarabia's apartment at 1925 Pomona

Ave., where she lives with her husband and her three sons. In the

afternoons, her sister brings over the children she baby-sits, Sarabia

said.

But the owners are going to renovate it, she said. They've sent

letters about the improvements they want to make.

Indeed, a slew of improvements are slated for the property but the

renovations may force her out of her home.

Last week, the City Council upheld a decision to allow Habitat for

Humanity to convert six units on Pomona Avenue into owner-occupied

condominiums.

Two of the existing two-bedroom duplexes would be converted into

four-bedroom homes and the third would be rehabilitated. An additional

three-bedroom house would also be built.

Once converted, the condominiums would be sold as low-income housing

to qualifying applicants and maintenance of the property would be the

responsibility of the new homeowners.

Home prices are estimated between $70,000 and $100,000, said Habitat

for Humanity representative Mark Korando, and construction is scheduled

to start in about eight months.

In the meantime, about 58 people are cramped into six, 44-year-old

units that are in desperate need of repair. Humanity Housing, formed by

Habitat for Humanity to own and manage the property prior to

construction, took control of the property in the summer.

Korando -- who is also the consultant to Humanity Housing -- said the

apartments were in very bad condition and the nonprofit is doing all it

can to keep them up to code. Humanity Housing bought the property with

money borrowed from the city. Once the building permits are issued,

Humanity Housing has agreed to transfer ownership -- and loan obligations

-- of the property to Habitat for Humanity.

"We're trying to hold them together with duct tape and spit until we

can get them to Habitat so they can totally refurbish," Korando said.

The massive construction -- slated to knock down and rip out

everything but the walls and concrete base -- is far from what Sarabia

had in mind. She envisioned improvements like new plumbing or paint --

maybe even new carpet, she said.

One letter mentioned she and her family might have to leave, her

husband had told her. But that was a few months ago and nothing has

happened, she said.

While current residents are entitled to first right of refusal, simple

math mandates at least 16 people will have to move. In addition, it is

foreseeable that not all those who are living at the apartment complex

will meet Habitat's stringent homeowner requirements.

In any event, some people will be forced to move.

Korando said Humanity Housing officials are still trying to figure out

the best process for finding new homes for its temporary tenants.

Costa Mesa will fund relocation for people with legal residency and

add the costs to Habitat's loan, said Muriel Ullman, the city's

neighborhood improvement manager. Because the project was funded by

federal housing money, the law prohibits the city from funding the moves

of illegal residents, she said.

In previous meetings, Korando told the city that Habitat for Humanity

would be willing to pay for the relocation of illegal residents, Ullman

said, but amounts were not discussed.

"Out of the goodness of their hearts, they are deciding they don't

want to see people out on the streets," Ullman said.

Korando would not comment on the specifics of the relocation process.

It is a problem the Orange County affiliate of Habitat for Humanity has

not had to face before, as this is the first rehabilitation project they

have taken on. All other projects have been built from the ground up.

The letter Sarabia received was sent by a city-hired relocation

consultant, giving preliminary notification of the project. She said she

is waiting for more information.

Although her modest two-bedroom apartment will never be featured in

Home and Gardens, she has worked to convert the humble lodging into a

home. She has plenty of complaints about the creaking floors and leaking

sinks but trying to find another place to live is more daunting.

Sarabia said she would love to own her own home, or be considered for

one of the renovated condominiums. She will talk to her husband to see if

they might qualify, she said.

Faced with the possibility of moving, she smiled and said, "We'll do

what we have to do."

* Lolita Harper covers Costa Mesa. She may be reached at (949)

574-4275 or by e-mail at o7 lolita.harper@latimes.comf7 .

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