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THE MORTGAGE MELTDOWN

Remodeling drop means less pay to spread around

August 11, 2007|Annette Haddad, Andrea Chang and Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writers

BRAULIO GONZALES

Painter

For day laborer Braulio Gonzalez, the slumping housing market has reverberated all the way to his native town of Porto San Jose in Guatemala.

The 51-year-old Lennox resident, who earns a living plastering and painting Southland homes, has always sent part of his income south to his abuela. But the envelope is a bit lighter these days.

"I used to be able to send $100, maybe $120 a month, to my grandmother," Gonzalez said. "Nowadays, I can send maybe $50, maybe less. But it is not just me, a lot of people have less money these days."

Gonzalez sees a clear connection between the housing downturn and his take-home pay.

Fewer homes sold means fewer new homeowners, and fewer remodeling projects. On top of that, it's getting harder for many people to tap their home equity to pay for the work, either because their home's value has declined or because they are having trouble qualifying for a loan.

"I had a project in Lynwood, a stucco job and new windows," Gonzalez said. When the homeowners learned the project would cost more than they had estimated, "they said, 'We need more time to save the money.' Before, people would have just borrowed it. It's been two months and they haven't called yet."

Standing on street corners or outside building supply stores, day laborers have long been a source of cheap labor for contractors and homeowners alike.

Gonzalez's own regular haunt in Redondo Beach, on the corner of Felton Lane and Artesia Boulevard, was once an easy place to find work, he said. But these days, many day laborers go a whole week without a single job.

Gonzalez considers himself one of the lucky ones. After years of hustling on street corners, he's learned skills and earned a word-of-mouth reputation -- so contractors and homeowners often phone him with potential jobs. But the number of such calls has been dwindling recently, he said.

"I used to get four, five calls a day. Now I go four, five days without a call," said Gonzalez, who estimated his household income has decreased by $5,000 annually because of the downturn. His wife, Carolina, is a house cleaner and together they will bring in about $30,000 this year, Gonzalez estimated.

"You just don't buy as much; clothes, shoes," he said. "If my son says he wants something, I say, 'You have to wait.' "

But mostly he worries about his grandmother. She is 85 and depends on the money Gonzalez and his sister and aunt, who also live in California, send every month.

"My grandfather passed away two years ago," he said. "She has no income but the money we send her."

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