Santiago Contreras. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Santiago Contreras. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Hollister resident Santiago Contreras grew up in a home that his father helped build through a self-housing program. Decades later, he is realizing how much work his father put into providing a home to his family.

“My father never really talked about how hard it was,” he said. “He just did what he could to provide for his family.”

It’s been a little over four months since Contreras, 31, and 11 other families first picked up hammers and saws to begin building their own homes in the Riverview Estates project on Southside Road in Hollister. Contreras was singled out by Community Services Development Corporation Executive Director Sonny Flores as an exceptional group leader. 

“Each group has a leader,” Flores said. “That person makes sure everything is going into place correctly and does the quality control. Then our construction supervisor will come through and check that everything is done according to plan. But for the most part, they have learned what they need to do, and they are doing it well.”

Contreras has been living with his parents all of his life and found out about the self-housing project from his sister. He said he was in a good place financially—and mentally—to take advantage of the program.

“I had worked around town for 13 years, so when I applied, my credit score was at my max,” he said. “And I knew what it was going to take to build my home because my father and my uncles were involved in self-help developments in town as well. It is everyone’s dream to have a home, but it is too expensive in California. I got lucky—over 800 people signed up for this program, but I won the raffle.”

He said his father was a field worker and had a difficult time balancing his work with finding the time off to build his home. Contreras said that his employer, Marich Confectionery in Hollister, has been much more accommodating.

“They are a family-owned business,” he said, “and they have worked around my schedule and appointments to be sure I have the time I need.”

Each family is committed to work 40 hours per week on the project and Contreras, as primary signatory on the loan, is required to work 16 hours per week.     

While he has gained the skill and experience needed to be a group leader on the project, Contreras says that he is not tempted to move into construction, though the opportunity exists.

“I have two brothers and some cousins who are carpenters,” he said. “They talked to me about going into the trade. But I would rather stay local, spend more time with my family, and be happy.”

As of May 15, the work on the project had progressed to where four houses are getting their roofs, and only two sites still need to be framed out.

“As you can see, things are going very well,” said supervisor Felipe Sanchez. “We will be preparing some of the houses for their sheetrock interiors, and depending on the contractors, the first few homes will be wrapped up in two or three months. But it is a rolling process and there is still a lot to do.”

Starting on May 21, the cycle began anew as 12 more families started learning the skills the other 12 have mastered, with Sanchez and Project Manager Bobby Ruvalcaba patiently explaining the basics, step by step.

“The hardest part for some of them is learning to read the tape measure,” said Sanchez. “It is not like rocket science, but it takes a little while to learn everything and understand how to do the job.”

Experiencing the process 40 years ago, when he was trained to build his own home in a similar project in Hollister, Sanchez said gets satisfaction out of watching others take on the work.

“I became a carpenter because of building my home,” he said. “I love being able to give back and teach others. And it is a great feeling, when they are done, to see them turn the keys to their own homes. You will see them break out and start crying after a full year of hard work.”



YouTube video


 We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.