Block party for new affordable Catalina Townhomes project in Santa Rosa

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Until recently, 32-year-old electrician Enrique Caleb Hernandez and his wife, Denira, lived in a spare bedroom at his brother’s house, but now they’re homeowners.

They’re one of 60 families who have moved into the Catalina Townhomes affordable housing project, newly completed by the nonprofit Burbank Housing, in southwest Santa Rosa. For the couple, family plans are in the relatively near future.

“Now that we’ve got a house, we can start a family,” said Denira Hernandez, 21.

Burbank Housing and city officials mingled with the new residents at Catalina Townhomes, on Dutton Meadow, between Hearn and Bellevue avenues, at a festive street fair Saturday afternoon.

Home to more than 230 people, including a newborn baby, the project — conceived seven years ago as the nation still struggled to emerge from recession — features two-story townhouses with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The average price of the homes is $370,000, with a first mortgage of $200,000 and monthly payments of $1,500.

“I didn’t think I’d ever become a homeowner. It was my goal to own a home at a young age,” said Betsabe Aparicio, 26, a senior office assistant with Sonoma County Family Youth and Children’s Services. “I was in an apartment, and the rent went up 18 percent in one year.”

Like all the new homeowners, truck driver Martin Sandoval, 38, who moved to Catalina Townhomes with his wife and 4-year-old daughter last weekend, helped construction crews build the homes over the past couple of years — framing, putting up drywall and landscaping, among other tasks.

“We’re here!” Sandoval declared with a broad grin. “We’re happy, and glad we could make it happen. It’s better for the family.”

The development is one of few new housing projects in Santa Rosa, where city officials and builders have pledged to do more to boost the tight supply of homes for sale and rent.

Team-building and a sense of community were happy side effects of the “sweat equity” Burbank project, said Elizabeth Lehrer, chairwoman of the organization’s board of directors.

“Everybody works on everybody’s home,” she said. “It’s a group effort.”

The result is a community that is already cohesive by the time everyone moves in, rather than just a random collection of strangers living side by side, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said before he delivered a short speech honoring the project.

“I wish we could be dedicating an affordable housing project like this every weekend in Santa Rosa,” he told the crowd.

Burbank Housing partnered with Caliber Home Loans and the California Department of Housing and Development on the Catalina Townhomes development. The organization has built more than 900 homes over the past 37 years, including rentals.

“This is the biggest single homeownership project we’ve done,” said Burbank Housing CEO Larry Florin.

The Saturday event had the flavor of a neighborhood block party as well as a street fair, with free food booths, live music and happy talk among new neighbors who already have become friends.

“My neighbor is like part of the family,” new homeowner Martin Sandoval said. “It’s amazing to me.”

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or

On Twitter @danarts.

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