Habitat Santa Barbara performs life-saving repairs as residents stay home
James and Janice Lee were faced with the decision to choose between their health and staying in their own Goleta trailer home of 37 years.
They were, that is, until Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County stepped in and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix this.”
The couple had bought the trailer brand new 37 years ago, but the roof started leaking to the point where the Lees could see it from the kitchen all the way through to the master bathroom. In particular, each time it rained, water dripped onto their faces as they laid in bed.
“When my sister-in-law came to visit, I gave a special pair of shoes to her and I said, ‘You just don’t go barefoot in this house. It’s just too contaminated,’” Mrs. Lee told the News-Press. “Now, I walk barefoot on my hardwood floors … It’s like, I can do that. My feet are clean.”
Mrs. Lee battles her own chronic illnesses, and last year, the Lees had to pack up for a month and a half and go to UCLA because Mr. Lee had to have a stem cell transplant for his cancer.
“We just covered everything in pads and prayed everything would be OK when we got back,” Mrs. Lee said.
Then, last month, a friend of the Lees set up the critical home repair. Habitat volunteers came to the Lees’ home, packed up their belongings for them because they didn’t have the strength to pack, and put them up in a hotel for a few days while they quickly replaced the 37-year-old roof and floor.
In a day and a half, Habitat volunteers replaced the floor and roof, so the Lees could remain in their home. The laminate wood floors replaced what was previously stained carpet.
When asked what this repair meant to them, Mrs. Lee said one word: “Everything.”
“We had no money to replace the floors and roof,” she said. “I have chronic illnesses and he was being treated at UCLA for his stem cell transplant and is still being treated for cancer, so with the finances, we had to choose … It was a matter of the roof coming down or the floor collapsing. We just didn’t feel safe living in this house anymore.
“We realized the house is part of the problem, so for them to fix what we feel were major health issues declining our health, it’s just been incredible,” Mrs. Lee said. “We’re breathing better, we’re moving around better, we’re sleeping better.”
Both Mr. and Mrs. Lee are third-generation Goleta area residents, so she said the home means a lot to them.
“We just didn’t see how we were going to be able to stay in this home, but everything else was so far out of our budget, so this was just a blessing,” Mrs. Lee said. “It literally uplifted us and gave us a whole new chance.”
“We were well aware that it wasn’t a healthy environment, and didn’t really see a way out,” Mr. Lee added.
Karen Lyons is on the board for the Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County and led this specific project.
“You can tell just by speaking with them how much of a difference this made for them, just mentally knowing that they don’t have to worry about this anymore,” she told the News-Press.
She added that when the pandemic hit, the importance of safe shelter was at the forefront.
“It accentuated the need because people are spending more time at home and in their home, so I think these repairs become even more crucial,” Ms. Lyons said. “They (the Lees) have their challenges that continue, but they are the sweetest people and so incredibly responsive considering everything they had on their plate with doctor’s appointments.”
Jessica Wishan, the CEO of Habitat Santa Barbara, said that as a result of the pandemic, the organization had to temporarily close its ReStore, a nonprofit home improvement store in Goleta that offered new and gently used building materials, appliances, furniture and more. However, this hasn’t halted Habitat’s work in the community.
“We want to make sure this community knows we are still here,” Ms. Wishan told the News-Press. “Especially during the pandemic, the concept of supporting people’s health and safety while they shelter at home is so important.
“Home is like your healthcare, so we need to make sure those homes are safe physically and that they, for mental health, create a positive environment for people as they quarantine.”
She shared that the new floor installed in the Lees’ home was donated by a Habitat board member/volunteer who was doing a remodel in Montecito. That volunteer was able to pick up the flooring from Montecito, move it all to the Lees Goleta home and “give them something that feels brand new.”
“We’re a really small staff team, and not only did Karen lead the different elements of projects, but she built for the family, and that was, for us, everything — that they could feel safe during the pandemic, during the time of change and during health issues, because Karen invested in that relationship in addition to addressing the brick and mortar elements of house,” Ms. Wishan said. “And that’s what makes us Habitat.”
Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County is still accepting applications for home repairs. (See the FYI box for details.)
“When people say there aren’t enough words, now I know how it feels,” Mrs. Lee said. “There just aren’t enough words. You (Habitat) put our lives back together.”