New householders and officials were all smiles at the groundbreaking for Habitat for Humanity's site in Carpinteria.
Habitat for Humanity

On April 18, Habitat for Humanity broke ground on its latest development site in Carpinteria. This is the nonprofit’s fourth project in Santa Barbara County. County Supervisor Das Williams noted that Carpinteria has the lowest housing production in the county and hoped for more projects like this.

Habitat President Jon Martin stated that the homes were not a handout but a hand up. Habitat requires each family to contribute 250 hours to building their homes, and with a no interest plan, they can save for a down payment and mortgage. The three families were selected from a competitive pool of applicants.

Marisol Lopez and her husband, Guillermo Lopez, came to Santa Barbara from Mexico over 26 years ago. Guillermo is a roofer. Marisol is a housekeeper and very involved in her children’s schools. They live in a two-bedroom apartment with their four children, Guillermo Jr., 16, Alexa, 13, and twins Abril and Genaro, 10.

Gabriel stated he came to Santa Barbara in “search of a better life” and to support his family back home. After marrying here, they fell in love with the people and atmosphere. What they didn’t anticipate was the struggle to find housing, noting the exorbitant cost of rent and limited options.

Having a family made finding housing more difficult. They had to find apartments on the first floor, so tenants wouldn’t complain about young kids running around. “We are always thinking about the happiness of the children,” Marisol stated. She is excited to finally have a home where her kids can do what they want.

They didn’t think they had a chance until their friends at church told them about the development; they’d applied for Habitat housing before and were denied. But they were accepted this time. With Guillermo Jr. at San Marcos, Marisol said he has dedicated himself to his studies and is now considering college. They plan to get a pet, which the kids are more excited about than the actual home, Gabriel stated. They hope that having a home will give their children stability. The Lopez family are thankful they could tell their story so that people can understand the struggle of families like theirs.

The Huerta family found themselves in a similar situation upon arriving in California from Mexico. Gabriel followed his family to Los Angeles County 17 years ago. What he didn’t realize was how expensive it was to live in the U.S. His wife, Maria, was from his hometown but joined him after they married. They started their life and family together in Santa Barbara 11 years ago.

With two kids, Maximiliano, 7, and Sophie, 4, they currently reside in a living room. The available bedrooms were too small, so it was the more spacious option. When Gabriel heard about the development, he thought they’d never get it. They were also denied the last time they applied to Habitat, but this time they were accepted. “I’ll never forget that day. it was the happiest day of my life,” Maria recalled. As a bus driver for MTD, Gabriel said he finds himself driving through the neighborhoods, thinking one day it will be his turn to have a home. Now it is.

Just like the Lopezes, they think about the impact this will have on their children’s future. For their son, who has achondroplasia, it means living in a healthy environment that won’t aggravate his condition. “What will happen when we move?” Maria asked Sophie. “College,” she immediately responded, with a big grin. Sophie wants to be a teacher or a doctor, “She’s already planning,” Maria said, laughing, and now they feel they can too.

The Polunets family also met similar challenges when they relocated to Santa Barbara. Bogdan followed his parents and family from Ukraine, 18 years ago. He met his wife, Valentyna, back in their home country, but she and their daughter, Yulia, 7, couldn’t join him until four years ago. They recently had another child, Nicole, who is 1. Both parents work full time, as caregivers, and currently reside in a one-bedroom apartment.

The Polunetses heard about Habitat from Bogdan’s brother, who convinced him to apply. They feel incredibly fortunate to have been accepted. The most excited is Yulia. She will now be able to have friends over, stating they only hang out at the park now because there’s nowhere to be inside. Yulia shares a room with her infant sister, stating she never gets a full night of sleep. She’s excited to have her own room, with a desk to do homework. Most of all, Yulia can’t wait to paint her walls and decorate, which she is already planning. It is clear, just like the other two families, that having their own home means everything for the children and building a better future.


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