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EAST LOS ANGELES : Habitat Building 4 Families Homes

July 25, 1993|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Jose Manuel Montenegro tried to talk above the chatter of his four children as they romped in the living room of the family's two-bedroom apartment last week.

Soon, the children will be able to chatter and play in the yard of a new townhome that will be built with three others in the first Eastside project of Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat, which builds low-cost housing in inner cities nationwide and in Mexico and gained prominence through the involvement of former President Carter, plans to build four 1,000-square-foot, three-bedroom units with the help of the families who will reside in them. Construction is expected to start at the end of this month and could be completed by November.

"It was a big surprise for our whole family," said Montenegro, 31, who two months ago moved from a small, one-bedroom house with his wife, Anna, and their children to the two-bedroom apartment. "I stayed quiet (when they told us) and my wife couldn't talk."

The move will add some stability to his young family's life, cutting rent payments of $600 in half and giving them the opportunity to keep the children in Catholic school. It will also give the family some breathing room--Montenegro and his wife share a bedroom with their youngest child, Anna, 4, and their three boys share the other bedroom.

More important, Montenegro said, the reduced rent will cut down on the need to seek extra work to supplement the income from his job as a drill handler and forklift operator at a manufacturing plant.

"Sometimes, I try to get a part-time job but it's not good because the family needs coordination," Montenegro said. "I try to give them time every day. If you don't take care of them now, you'll have problems later."

The Montenegros and the three other families involved in the Eastside project were recommended to Habitat by Father Bob Juarez of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Juarez learns of housing and other problems from families who belong to the parish or from those who come to the church seeking food.

The lot where the houses will be built, at 134 N. Bonnie Beach Place, was sold to the housing organization by the county for $1, said Habitat spokeswoman JoJo Liebeler. Although the organization has records of thousands of people who have applied for housing, it was important to find families already in the neighborhood, she said.

The families will each put in 500 hours of what Habitat calls "sweat equity" into their homes by painting, working on electrical or plumbing systems, sweeping up construction debris or anything that they can do.

"The labor they put into their house is their down payment," Liebeler said.

Families who qualify for the housing have low incomes and are living in substandard or overcrowded housing, she said. With much of the labor and materials donated, the cost of the houses come to about $55,000, with monthly mortgage payments at about $350.

"The first time I heard this, it was hard to believe, but when you see all of it together, you believe," Montenegro said. "All is possible with God."

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