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Habitat for Humanity brings housing hope to East Bay community

Habitat for Humanity brings housing hope with Walnut Creek development
Habitat for Humanity brings housing hope with Walnut Creek development 03:14

WALNUT CREEK -- The housing crisis in the Bay Area has proved a difficult and time-consuming problem to solve but, on Saturday, one well-known, non-profit builder celebrated a new development in Walnut Creek, giving  hope to those willing to put in the work.

The Spanish word for hope is "esperanza" and Esperanza Place is a fitting name for Habitat For Humanity's newest development in Walnut Creek. The organization held a welcome ceremony for the 23 families who will move into the houses they helped build next to the Pleasant Hill BART station. 

In all, the development will contain 42 new homes when completed and will be "zero net energy."  Janice Jensen, CEO of Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley said the two-story townhouses squeezed into a former BART overflow parking lot are an example of how much housing designs have changed over the years.

"Back in the day, we would build single-family homes," Jensen said.  "We don't do that very much any more. First of all, the land prices here are so expensive that we have to be very cognizant of what we're putting on that land."

About 80 percent of the project was built with volunteer labor. Construction manager Ben Grubb said it's amazing how quickly inexperienced people can learn the trade.

"You'd be shocked," he said. "In the first hour of the job, it's like a school house, you know? You're teaching everyone what to do.  But then after that, people come out, they're smart, they're motivated, they want to do a good job, right? So, basically, we're not the fastest builders of all time but we're very thorough and we do a good job."

"When they told us that we were selected I felt like we had won the lottery," said new homeowner Yulisa Elenes. "And having to do a lot of work was something that we were looking forward to, learning how to build your house, how to paint."

That's what Yulisa specialized in, painting the interiors of all the homes, even though she had never picked up a brush before.

"Now when I go into buildings or other people's homes, I see the paint and notice that, 'Oh, they probably need a retouch!'" she said, laughing.

The new home is a real dream come true for her since her partner Guillermo is busy full-time raising their 10-year-old son Cesar, who faces the challenge of autism.  

"This change for the future is so important for us." she told the crowd at the ceremony. "Here, I see a place for me and Guillermo, where we could grow old and take care of Cesar as long as God allows us too."

Housing advocates often say the solution to the housing crisis is to simply build more housing but that doesn't happen quickly. Esperanza Place broke ground in September 2021 and there are still 19 homes to be built.

CEO Jensen said that, just because the solution seems simple, it is by no means easy.

"Incomes have not risen, costs have skyrocketed and that creates -- it creates a problem that is very hard to overcome.  We need better public policy, we need more funding.  We need everything," Jensen said.

The need is everywhere but so is the willingness to work. Just ask the people who dream of a place to call their own.

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