De izq. a derecha: Marcel González con una foto de sus padres (Marcelino y Jesusa González), Delia Montana con una foto de sus abuelos (Benjamín y Genoveva Gómez) y Angelina Aguilar. Las tres fueron afectadas por los programas Community Development Block Grant Program y First Time Homebuyer Program de San Joaquín. Foto cortesía de Delia Montana

San Joaquin: An American Dream Turned into a Nightmare

The City of San Joaquin, a small incorporated city in west Fresno County, has been openly accused multiple times by various residents of scamming them.

Buying your own home is part of the classic American dream. It is a sign of economic stability, an investment your children can rely on once you’ve passed away. But much like the American dream, owning a home has become increasingly impossible for the disappearing middle class and low-income families.

Over the past couple of decades, the City of San Joaquin offered loans to families that desperately needed repairs to their homes or assistance with purchasing a home. This was largely done with funds from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the California Home Investment Partnership Program (HOME) and the Cal Home Program.

Unfortunately, something designed to lift up those in need has landed them in more distress than before. Many of the recipients now regret having applied all together. These individuals are lost in varying issues, not sure how they got into this situation and feeling tricked by their local government.

Each case is different, some being surprised with terms and rates they were not aware of. Or trying to live in homes without functioning appliances. Others are even facing threats of eviction. Regardless of the severity, they feel more at a loss than before reaching out for help.

One woman, a hardworking mother, shared concerns, confusion and frustration. She received the loan to help fix several urgent issues in her home. However, she was shocked to find out the agreement she was verbally told was not what she signed. She claims agreeing to a loan of approximately $30,000, which she would not have to pay unless she sold the house. Instead, the loan was nearly double that amount and would have to be paid if she ever moved or passed away.

How could such a severe “miscommunication” occur? Well, like many in her situation, she was never given a translator. How can someone truly consent to an agreement without fully understanding the language the terms are set in? This seems like something that could have been easily avoided considering California has so many Spanish speakers (in the top three states with a high percentage of Spanish speakers).

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the amount and terms are unfortunately not the only issues with her loan. Everything that was “fixed” is now worse or just as bad as when the contractors arrived. She explained that even the smaller “fixes,” such as her kitchen cabinets, are falling apart. The contractors hired under the CDBG program never supplied her with a clear breakdown of what was being fixed and what the costs were. She has no idea what the money went to but is convinced it didn’t actually go to fixing her home.

The son of another loan recipient shared a similar story. He claims his parents’ house is now in complete disarray, after it was supposed to have been fixed. His parents had been displaced for months waiting on repairs that never seemed to end. When he went to check on the house, he was shocked by its awful condition. He states that the pipes need to be replaced as the water that comes out is so filthy they can’t even use it to wash clothing. He has also had to bring in professionals in an attempt to fix several issues with the installation of the air-conditioning and heating unit of the house.

Everyone we spoke with agreed that the workmanship was shoddy at best and negligent at worst. It was clear to them that the workers had no idea what they were doing. They thoroughly believed the workers had little to no experience and were not equipped to have made the “repairs” in the first place.

Many San Joaquin Valley residents have stepped forward, sharing their horror stories or those of loved ones who feel as if they do not have a voice. Some toe the line cautiously, waiting and hoping things will end in their favor.

One of these individuals is Delia Montana, who even launched a lawsuit against the City of San Joaquin in 2018. She had tirelessly requested documents from the City to better understand why a debt was being claimed on her aunt’s home. As far as her family knew, the debt had fully been paid off several years ago. In 2019, the suit failed, but not without calling more attention to the issue at hand.

People in need reached out to their local government and now find themselves worse off. They are left lost, waiting in limbo. Not sure what is going to happen to their homes and livelihood. Wondering when they will get concrete answers to their questions and what those answers will result in.

  • Paulina Cruz is a fellow with the Community Alliance. She is a Mexican immigrant currently attending Fresno State. She is currently working on an anthropology major with a minor in psychology. She spends her free time writing poetry or painting. 

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