Home sweet home for North Bay fire victims

Wayne Freedman Image
ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Home sweet home for North Bay fire victims
When does a house become a home? When it's going to have your name on it.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- When does a house become a home?

When it's going to have your name on it.

"It's really beautiful!" exclaimed Estefani Cardenas as she walked through the door of a small home that ended her personal nightmare. It was one of hundreds, if not thousands, that began almost two years ago when the Tubbs Fire burned through Coffey Park where the home she rented burned along with all so many others.

"How much time did you have to get out?" we asked.

"Ten minutes or less."

That nightmare continued as Estefani and her daughter, Mia, moved through three different places.

"Mia never had had a home. Always just a room."

Not anymore.

"I actually prayed to have my space again," said Cardenas.

Now multiply her story by nine, the number of small homes that Sonoma County's Habitat For Humanity put up in Santa Rosa, and celebrated on Friday. Those moving in will begin as renters, but may have an opportunity to buy.

When Habitat For Humanity announced these nine homes, the non-profit received 285 applications from fire victims.

How could they choose? Ultimately, based on ability to pay and need. And by deciding for whom these homes would make the biggest difference.

"Those already in housing were a lesser need," said Misty Bastoni from Habitat For Humanity. "Estefani and her daughter were living in a friend's bedroom where they had no space."

Some of the homes in Santa Rosa took volunteers to assemble. Derek Hugel showed us his model, built entirely in his Washington State Factory.

"Stove, sink, washer dryer in there."

The unit cost $86,000. A proof of concept.

"This is about bigger issues. But it starts with fire victims because they are the current issue."

Designer Marianne Cusato talked about how this concept began with earthquake shacks in San Francisco, evolved after Hurricane Katrina, and might has possibilities.

"The grand vision is to find ways to address the housing crisis in the immediate aftermath of disaster and long term for the needs of a community."

Habitat plans more houses like these in the next couple of years. Today, for Cardenas and her daughter Mia, this is the only one that matters.

"I get to have a home, again. Not just a room. It means everything to me."