Bobby Ruvalcaba. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Bobby Ruvalcaba. Photo by Robert Eliason.

This is part III of the Riverview Estates Project series. Read part I here and part II here.

It’s been a little over three months since the first group of 12 Hollister families picked up hammers and saws and began working together to build their own homes at Riverview Estates on Southside Road, a project sponsored by the Community Services Development Corporation

Going from wielding a hammer for the first time to raising the walls of a house might seem daunting, but the first group has done very well, according to project manager Bobby Ruvalcaba.

“The hardest part for a project like this is getting used to the order and system for getting things done,” said Ruvalcaba. “If they have had a hard time with the physical work, they have not shown it. But then they have great motivation—they are hoping to move into their new houses by Christmas.”

Ruvalcaba, 59, started in construction under his stepfather when he was 12, helping to clean up work sites. The next year, he got his own tools and began learning the craft in earnest, the same way he is helping the families today.

Around the same time, he had seen a self-housing project on San Juan Road being built and the memory stuck with him.

“I was semi-retired and I saw the ad online for this job,” he said, “It was something I always wanted to do—to help people in a project like this who otherwise could not afford a house. I thought, “I don’t know when I will get another opportunity so I better take it now.”

A month ago, only two of the homes near the front of the development had been framed out. As of April 9, they have progressed down their new street with nine houses not only framed but with two in the first stages of getting roofs. Just three of the 12 sites assigned to the first group of families remain as untouched concrete slabs.

As the families gain experience, Ruvalcaba finds that he can step back from time to time from his role as day-to-day instructor.

“When we started, I was right in there with them with my bags,” he said. “And now, in just three months, they are handling things themselves. They have questions every now and then, and when they are learning something new, I will be working next to them and teaching them, but they are all smart people and they pick it up really fast. I have five or six people who have taken on leadership roles that I myself would hire in a heartbeat.”

Santiago Contreras, 31, is one of those leaders and he said that Ruvalcaba has been an empathetic teacher.

“He knows what he is doing and he knows how to give directions,” Contreras said. “He understands that he made the same mistakes as we do when he first started and you start noticing that whatever he tells you, he tells you for a reason.”

“They have gotten to the point where they can frame a house a week,” Ruvalcaba said. “On the weekends, 30 to 35 people are on-site working so we can make big progress. I tell them each week that they meet and exceed my expectations.”

Stll, Ruvalcaba could use more people with experience and jobs are available. He’s hoping other retired or semi-retired carpenters like himself will join up.

“The wages aren’t as high as a regular construction job, but the benefits package is good enough that it should attract people,” he said. “It would be a great way to give back to the community and help these hard-working families.”

On April 23, Ruvalcaba is scheduled to start fresh with the next group of 12 families, teaching them the basics of how to use their tools, pounding nails and sawing boards as they join the other families—and their soon-to-be-neighbors—doing the hard work it takes to build their dream homes.


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