|Tri Counties Bank||
Habitat for Humanity Fresno County
|$15,000 WISH Grant|
Sandra Gonzalez vividly recalls the surprise and excitement she felt the morning she learned that her family had been selected to be a partner family for the brand-new Habitat for Humanity Rialto Ranch subdivision in Clovis, California. It was her father, Salvador Gonzalez, who saw a television ad for the opportunity and put in an application. After the selection committee visited them at their current home, where Sandra, 44, lived with her parents and two teenage daughters, the whole family was invited to what was billed as an informational breakfast. But then they were called to the stage, where Habitat for Humanity Fresno County CEO Mathew Grundy made the announcement and presented a hammer to Salvador. “It was a surprise that we weren’t expecting, in front of so many people,” Sandra says. “It was really nice, a great experience.”
Habitat for Humanity partner families must meet three criteria to qualify for homeownership, the first of which is need, as measured by current living conditions that are substandard. With need established, the other criteria are the ability to repay an affordable home loan and a willingness to put 500 hours of sweat equity into building the home that will become theirs, as well as contributing to the building of a neighbor’s home.
When the selection committee visited the home the Gonzalez family had rented for nine years, paying $800 in monthly rent, they found a house that didn’t look too bad from the outside. “But you can’t judge a book by the cover,” relates Grundy. Inside, the smell of mold was pervasive. “You could see black mold hanging from the ceiling.” Salvador was asked about ventilation, and he shared that when the windows stopped working from the strain of being constantly opened and closed, the landlord had screwed them all shut instead of fixing them. Salvador had taken to sleeping on a makeshift bed supported by two-by-fours in the backyard, surrounded by chicken wire and in the company of the family’s goats.
Bad as their rental house was, its location had allowed Sandra’s daughters, Aurora, 17, and Abigail, 13, to attend a good school, a high priority for the family. “What I really like to do is study,” Abigail says. “I want to be an AP Spanish teacher because I really enjoy speaking Spanish, since it’s my first language and I’m really good at it.” The move to Rialto Ranch would keep the girls in the same school district. In the new house there’s room to spread out to do homework, and studying is a lot more productive when the air inside the house is healthy and cool when the valley is hot. “It’s a big improvement,” Aurora says.
According to Clovis Deputy City Manager Andy Haussler, Clovis is well-known for quality schools, good public safety, and a great park system. But incomes in the region are not high, and there is a lot of poor housing stock, like the house the Gonzalez family had been renting. The site of what would become the Rialto Ranch subdivision was itself blighted. Partnering with Habitat to create the 10-home affordable homeownership development was an opportunity to offer local families the same benefits his family enjoys. “It’s a great city, and my family has been blessed to live here. We want the same opportunities for other families.”
Clovis was the first city in Fresno County to host a Habitat build, over 30 years ago. In Rialto Ranch, 6 of the 10 three-, four-, and five-bedroom homes are built on lots that the city purchased and donated to Habitat. The city also contributed improved infrastructure, with new curbs and gutters and good lighting. “It was unkempt land with empty lots and abandoned homes,” says Clovis City Council member Vong Mouanoutoua. “This revitalizes it. People are so glad that we are investing back into a struggling neighborhood, and making it so much better.”
Rialto Ranch is a diverse community where many languages are spoken – there are Armenians, South East Asians, and Latinos from different countries. As she participated in the build with her new neighbors, Sandra, who speaks only Spanish, says they mostly communicated with hand gestures. Construction was new to her, but as she worked alongside her 77-year-old father, she got better with a hammer day by day, and laughingly displays all 10 of her intact fingers to prove it. She feels more than competent now to help keep her new home in good shape.
Sandra’s father Salvador Gonzalez came to America from Mexico when he was a young man and has worked hard at whatever jobs he could find his whole life. He wanted a better life for his children and grandchildren, and though it’s been hard, Sandra says that doing it for your family makes everything a bit easier. For Salvador and his wife Jesus, this home that they built and own is a dream come true. “He always wanted us to have a home, he didn’t want to leave us with nothing,” explains Abigail. “That has always been important to him.”
Though their grandparents can be strict, the girls see many benefits to living all together in their three-bedroom house. Salvador helps Abigail with her homework. “He’s really good at math,” she says. The girls’ grandmother is teaching them to sew and cook, and they are learning about the edible plants she’s growing in the backyard – teas and vegetables and chiles. “A lot of my friends, their grandparents are not around,” Aurora says. “We are very blessed to still have our grandparents.”
Sandra, who grew up in Mexico and works seasonally at a local produce packing plant, cannot say enough good things about her experience with Habitat for Humanity. She tells people it’s better than winning a prize. “You don’t have to pay to enter, you just go to work and build your house.” Notably, the family’s monthly mortgage payment – $750 – is less than the rent they were paying for the moldy rental house. More importantly, she feels safe and secure in her new home. “We know it’s permanent,” she says.
The Gonzalez family received a $15,000 first-time homebuyer WISH grant for their downpayment through member Tri Counties Bank, as did four of their Rialto Ranch neighbors. Additional families are also in the pipeline for WISH funding through Tri Counties Bank. “Over the past three years, Tri Counties Bank has successfully tapped the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco’s WISH Program in partnership with Habitat for Humanity Fresno County to deliver valuable resources to low- and moderate-income families,” said Guillermo Sandoval, Vice President and CRA Officer at Tri Counties Bank. “We are very appreciative of the valuable resources the Bank provides to families throughout its district, and we were especially pleased to use WISH to help the Gonzalez family.”
In keeping with Habitat’s motto “A Hand Up, Not a Handout,” the WISH program values sweat equity hours at $15 per hour, and matches that contribution three-to-one up to a maximum of $15,000. “Given the income level these families have, this kind of support is necessary,” Mathew Grundy explains, “Without it, they would never have the wherewithal to save that amount of cash.”
Rialto Ranch exemplifies productive partnerships. According to Grundy, the city worked tirelessly for five years to make it happen. “We can’t do this without everyone in the community, and the City of Clovis did a phenomenal job,” he says. “We’re so thankful that these families are able to live in a community with so many amenities,” says Grundy.
While it was a long process with a lot of pieces to put together, Clovis officials like Andy Haussler and Vong Mouanoutoua see in these new homes much more than a rebuilt neighborhood. “It’s pretty humbling to be the guy who is usually behind the curtain working on the financing and agreements, to see all the people giving up their weekends to make this happen,” Haussler says. “You realize that it’s really the community doing it.”
Mouanoutoua has been to every dedication of the Rialto Ranch homes, the first one in 109-degree heat. “To see a kid walk though their new home and point out their bedroom,” he says, “it just tugs at your heart and makes you think, ‘It’s so totally worth it.’”