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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .