by Monica Wright
My neighbor Hernando*, approached me with desperation on his face and the slight smell of beer on his breath. He was known by everyone on the block for his ability to transform the exterior of an old brick row to stylish old world adobo stucco. His granddaughter attended the summer free lunch program we held on the block last year, Hernando admitted that he was facing eviction and he and his family were on the verge of homelessness.
“Ms Monica, I want this house” He pointed to a long abandoned and padlocked row home directly across from the house where his family resided, a rental that had just been sold by the owner. He had less than 30 days to find another place to live. Most people on the block knew I was a real estate sales agent, so I promised to look up information on the property. I asked if he had any money, confidently he said “I don’t need no money, just help me get this house and I will fix it up!”
Two days later, junkies broke in the house and burned it down. Just a few doors away from the house we used for the free summer lunch program.
Some people might consider Kensington the worst part of the city. For me, Kensington is a true village; there is no shame or judgement among the people who live here. Every race and culture lives shoulder to shoulder and everyone knows the struggle. I had just finished work rehabbing the first house my family lived in when we moved to Kensington. During the summer of 2015 we served 2,000 free summer meals to the children from that house. The block had a new excitement about it for the past year, the Ray of Hope Project helped the neighbors organize a clean street program.
However, just as there was an overabundance of hope and empowerment to participate in creating a community that everyone desired so much to live in, there was an inadequate supply of supports and resources to turn this dream into a reality.
The office of city council woman, Maria Quinones Sanchez, was extremely responsive and sympathetic to our cause, but when we asked about funding, for a long time the answer was that there wasn’t any available. I found it hard to believe there were no financial resources allocated for citizens to shape the community that they lived in. Houses remained boarded up and padlocked; windows were left broken, pipes stolen, houses gutted from the inside out.
It’s been two weeks since the fire. Hernando and another neighbor were sifting through the broken glass and peering in the basement of the burnt out building. Two neighbors brought boards and sealed the building. Surprisingly the house was still in pretty good shape. Hernando and I jumped in my van and headed over to our local Community Development Corporation to demand some help. Today we got a “maybe” instead of a “no”.