Carlos Mancia and his wife Emelia became owners of their new house in Santa Ana on May 27, 2016.
A day later, they moved in – a day of powerful emotions marking the fulfillment of their hopes.
“I almost cried when I came into the house and I was moving my first stuff inside here,” Carlos said. “For me, it was a big moment. We are grateful.”
The day marked the end of a long, difficult road in the couple’s quest to become homeowners, a path to homeownership and new opportunity that they followed with the help of NeighborWorks Orange County.
The Mancias, both immigrants, met in Santa Ana. Both had been active at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church but met when Emelia stopped in to visit Carlos’s mother, who was a friend of hers. They wed at the church, which they continue to attend.
After they got married, they decided to buy a house, settling in 2004 on a large, four-bedroom house in Corona that came with a swimming pool.
Both adults were working, but when the first of their two sons was born, Emelia became a stay-at-home mom. Carlos struggled to make the $2,700 a month house payment. Acting on a tip from a co-worker, he decided to refinance. The deal involved his paying $800 every two weeks. When they signed for the new loan, they didn’t realize that their payments, which didn’t even cover interest, would increase. They ended up owing nearly $500,000 after initially owing just $355,000.
“Huge mistake,” said Carlos, a forklift driver who graduated from Saddleback High School and attended Santa Ana College. “My brother looked at the paperwork and told me I got screwed from the get-go.”
He looked into a loan modification, but saw that he’d just be getting into another cycle of house payments that would increase until they finally became unaffordable. In 2010, after even trying to rent out the house in an effort to keep it, the couple made the painful decision to let their house go through a short sale.
They ended up renting a one-bedroom apartment in Fountain Valley. Though initially, they paid $1,100 a month, they saw their rent increase to $1,375 a month – and even higher just before their move to their new Santa Ana home.
“The rents were going higher and higher every year,” Carlos said. “I feared they would reach something I couldn’t afford.”
Fortunately, they heard about a visit that Rep. Loretta Sanchez would make to their son Emmanuel’s school. They decided to attend. A Sanchez staff member told parents about various programs that could help them in such areas as housing. Carlos asked for more information, and learned about the work that NeighborWorks Orange County does, helping low-to-moderate income families become homeowners. He set up an appointment, making his first visit to NeighborWorks in 2012. By then the family had grown to include son Emmanuel, 11, and Edward, 7.
“I wanted space so that my kids can live better, have a place to do their homework and have a better quality of life,” Carlos said.
Carlos, once burned by the housing industry, said that NeighborWorks won his trust.
"There are people there that actually care about other people,” Carlos said.
He met with three “Friendly Experts” at NeighborWorks, who told him that to buy a house he’d need to wait until at least three years had passed since the short sale.
“They said that in order to get a house you need to be clean in every aspect,” he said. “Like credit. And you cannot get into debt. You need to save. They told me to come back the next year, take the homebuyer classes and we’ll go from there.”
Carlos and Emelia did just that. They enrolled in a homebuyer education class, as well as the 10-month IDEA program, in which they took classes and saved $5,000 so that they could qualify for a three-to-one down payment match, giving them a total of $20,000 through that program alone. Carlos returned to NeighborWorks for a second homebuyer education class in 2015. The couple took advantage of the services that NeighborWorks provides in Spanish, and deepened their understanding of the home buying process.
“The NeighborWorks people opened their arms and said ‘This is the way it’s going to be, and this is reality versus fantasy.’ I guess the hardest thing for me was to be willing to listen,” Carlos said. “I was going with the mindset that I know everything, because I’ve already bought a house. At the same time, I was not humble enough to say I had already failed, and this time I will do things right.”
The couple learned about living within budget, about the ins and outs of home maintenance, even how to save on utilities.
“They told me what I have to do,” Carlos said. “You have to keep yourself with the program and you have to keep yourself positive. Save. Increase your credit score. Have no debt.” With a laugh, he added, “And pray to God.”
Through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, aimed at protecting neighborhoods and their home values, NeighborWorks in July 2015 acquired a house on 12th Street in Santa Ana’s Artesia-Pilar neighborhood that had been in foreclosure. The nonprofit bought it for $288,000, and invested in important renovations, including new windows, flooring and doors, opening up the kitchen and living room spaces, installing energy-efficient appliances, remodeling the bathroom, installing new flooring, removing lead and asbestos, adding new air conditioning and upgrading the electrical system. It sits on a tidy street near Santa Ana College.
NeighborWorks, working with other community partners, put together a specialized loan package for the family’s very-low income bracket that resulted in a house payment lower than the rent on their one-bedroom apartment.
Emelia, who immigrated at age 21 from Acapulco, Mexico likes the natural light that floods the house through its windows. Carlos, whose family came to Santa Ana from El Salvador when he was 12, likes the ocean breeze that cools the house during the afternoon. The boys ride their bikes on a make-shift dirt track in the far reaches of their back yards.
“I like the house because it’s not so big,” said Emelia, who appreciates having a washer and dryer in her own home. “With a big house, everyone has their own little world. Here, we’re cozy. Everything is new.”
Carlos, who appreciates having a place to park, is widening the driveway, and as the boys get older, plans to add another bedroom and bathroom. The house, built in 1951, covers 903 square feet, and sits on a 6.098-square-foot lot.
“In truth NeighborWorks and its supporters gave us a huge opportunity to have a house,” Emelia said. “And I hope they help other people in need to get their own house.”
The family has made the house their own. Wedding pictures hang from the walls of the living room. A cabinet is filled with religious icons, including statues of St. Jude Thaddeus, St. Michael and an image of Mary venerated in Oaxaca that’s known as the Virgin of Juquila.
“It’s not just a structure or a building, it’s happiness,” Carlos said. “It’s a castle to come here. As a family we are growing and becoming better people. We are not taking for granted what we have. We have to treasure it.”