Leaking pipes, faulty electrical switches and other badly needed repairs are underway this month at more than 100 homes in Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. Caritas Communities, the new park operator, is working to bring the aging Palo Alto dwellings up to code.
On Tuesday afternoon, contractors were busily filling a jumbo dumpster with trash, old furniture and construction materials. At Juan Rodarte's residence, a bright blue ladder leaned against his small motor home as workers repaired his bathroom floor, fixed lights in the living room and kitchen and added a smoke alarm and light bulbs.
"It's more clean around here now," said Rodarte, a 15-year resident who lives with his wife and two children.
Rodarte's eyes shone as he pointed in the direction of a new home. At least one or more mobile homes have been replaced, with gleaming windows and sliding-glass doors, a sturdy porch and flashing that protects pipes, the roof and downspouts.
"I have been over there and seen that home," he said, expressing hopes that Caritas will eventually get rid of all of the old homes and replace them with new ones.
The mobile home park was purchased last year using city and county funds, the culmination of a years-long effort to preserve the city's last bastion of housing for people of very low income. As part of the park's $40 million purchase from the previous owners, the Jisser family, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority contributed $26 million through federal funding from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which also will pay for improvements to the park's aged utilities infrastructure.
Repairs to bring the aged mobile homes up to HUD standards are a requirement of the agency. The park renovations thus far have included removing broken-down cars and trash and debris that could cause fire hazards, eliminating vermin and trimming vegetation. Each unit has been inspected by HUD staff for what repairs the agency requires to bring the units up to code. Now contractors are making repairs noted in the HUD inspectors' reports. Each unit will have a smoke detector at the very least.
Residents said they are excited and pleased about the changes. In some cases, new floors, plumbing fixes and lighting are making their homes feel brighter and safer, residents said.
Maria Reyna, who bought her unit 17 years ago, said the contractors will fix her electricity and water that is leaking, and they have changed a light switch. But progress has also meant some personal sacrifices. She used to have two parking spots, which allowed for her daughter-in-law to park next to her unit. Now she is only allotted one, so her daughter-in-law, who works until late at night, must park on the darkened street along Los Robles Avenue.
"There is no parking now. The street is full," she said.
Reyna's home is also adjacent to the public bathrooms and laundry, which also are being repaired. While convenient, new dumpsters have made her life more unpleasant. By the weekend the garbage piles up.
But she is glad the park is being cleaned up. There used to be much more garbage and many more stored cars, she said.
On Tuesday, Buena Vista Community Manager Cassy Husted, whose office is on site, was helping residents coordinate their repair dates, working from spreadsheets to track the progress. She referred comment to Caritas about the changes and what the future will bring, but Caritas did not respond before the Weekly's press deadline.
Deborah Farrington Padilla, a teacher who runs the new Buena Vista Homework Club, which now has a mobile unit at the park, said she has seen major improvements to the residents' quality of life, not only in terms of safety and sanitation but also services. The park now has a security guard who patrols the grounds, and park rules regarding noise and trash are being enforced.
According to the newsletter, new speed bumps will be added to slow traffic. For security and safety, one of the doors to the laundry room has been closed off to reduce points of access, and the bathrooms will be similarly altered.
A mobile food truck that will provide healthful and nutritious produce, bread and canned food will be available to needy residents through the Community Services Agency of Mountain View and West Valley Community Services, according to the newsletter.
Padilla pointed to the Homework Club as an example of Caritas' commitment to improving the park holistically. The club, which began in September with an outside table, now has a mobile unit purchased by Caritas. Students receive mentoring and tutoring assistance from Stanford University student volunteers. The brainchild of Padilla, a teacher at Sacred Heart Preparatory School in Atherton, the "clubhouse" offers a badly needed gathering place for students twice weekly, she said.
On Tuesday Padilla hauled a juicer out of her car and mounded a pile of oranges on a card table. The children, who are in elementary school, excitedly took turns pressing halved oranges onto the device. On this day they will have access to fresh juice and see where it originated, she said.
Brightly colored student drawings grace the unit's door. Soon, Caritas will add internet service at the clubhouse, and Padilla and the Stanford students plan to coordinate with Palo Alto Unified School District and individual school officials on potential computer programs and other services.
Padilla noted the changes she has seen in some of the students. They have found a sense of community.
"One girl in the beginning just grunted. Now she comes in and gets her coloring pencils and she is drawing pictures," she said.
The girl has opened up to her mentor to talk about her personal life.
"In four months, she is completely different from when she came in September," Padilla added.