Sandra Quiroz’s new apartment, in the Casa de Vilarrasa affordable senior housing complex in Benicia, is modest: Its walls are bone-white and beige, its shelves are strewn with family photographs, and its windows look out to a sun-dappled courtyard.
But compared with the mobile home where Quiroz has lived for the past 15 years, it’s grand.
“There are so many cupboards — there are cupboards that I don’t even use,” she exclaimed, eyes twinkling as she bent over the arm of her wheelchair and pointed at her small kitchenette.
Just a few months ago, the 62-year-old retired X-ray technician was making do in a 30-foot trailer that she parked in a nearby lot. Quiroz, who suffers from debilitating kidney failure and gets dialysis treatments three times a week, was unable to keep up with repairs. Brittle winters, she speculated, had caused the locks on her trailer doors to contract and break. Worse yet, the shower had a ledge that blocked her wheelchair, so for two years Quiroz was forced to sponge-bathe in the sink.
“I felt vulnerable in the trailer, and I kept getting sicker and sicker,” she said.
Two years ago, the owner of the trailer park announced plans to develop the lot and bring in an Ace Hardware store. He gave his 27 tenants until June of next year to move out.
Quiroz suddenly found herself facing homelessness. Strained by complex health problems and a fixed Social Security income of $1,100 a month, she had limited housing options. And sleepy Benicia was starting to feel the squeeze of a hot Bay Area real estate market: In April, median rents for a one-bedroom apartment rose to $1,465 a month — a steep climb from $987 a month in April 2011, according to the real estate website Zillow.
“It’s been very hard to locate any affordable housing here in Benicia,” said Roberta Cooper, Quiroz’s case worker at the Benicia Community Action Council, a nonprofit group that provides food, housing, and job services for the poor.
“It seems like these big rent increases have occurred in just the past two years,” Cooper said, “and all the cheaper options have been soaked up.”
Quiroz sought help from the Community Action Council in April, and the group was able to find her an apartment in Casa de Vilarrasa, a large, Spanish-style building on a quiet, tree-lined street. The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing fund helped cover the security deposit and one month of rent.
Within days of filing her paperwork, Quiroz opened the door of her new apartment and rolled her wheelchair along the kitchen’s smooth linoleum floors. She hung a cat calendar on one wall and tacked pictures of her two daughters and five grandchildren on the refrigerator. She bought a new bed with money she earned selling the old mobile home. She hung cups over the counters and began cooking on the electric stove, which was a huge improvement over the tiny propane oven she used in the trailer.
And she began meeting her neighbors, some of whom had emerged from similarly precarious situations.
“We get together and celebrate birthdays and have potlucks,” Quiroz said. “There’s a large community room where you can put tables end to end.”
She said she has no intention of ever leaving.
“I lived in that trailer for 15 years, and to come into this … ” She paused mid-sentence and shook her head, giggling. “This to me was like, ‘Whoah.’”
A couple days after moving in, Quiroz got a special chair for her shower and sat under the hot water for what must have been 20 minutes. It was her first shower in two years.
This story was written by Rachel Swan, a City Hall reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. You can follow her on Twitter: @rachelswan.
The original article can be found here.