Housing / Land Use

Storms delay Hollister self-housing project

Timeline shows families moving into their new homes in June.

This is the eighth article of an ongoing series on the Riverview Estates II. To read the other articles on the development click on the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI and Part VII.


It’s been just over a year since 12 families first picked up saws and hammers as they began learning how to build their own homes during the first stage of the Riverview Estates self-housing project in Hollister. Aiming to finish construction by Christmas, the work was postponed by winter storms. The families now expect to move in at the end of May or the beginning of June.

“We have had some manpower issues and problems getting supplies,” said site manager Bobby Ruvalcaba. “And the rain also slowed us down. We are starting now with the sheetrock, then the baseboards and interiors next. But everybody’s been working hard, and everybody’s looking forward to getting their keys.”

The houses are all in various stages of construction as the families work on each house down the line in turn. The house at what will be 3114 Dennis Lalor Lane, belonging to Sarah and Angel De Avila, is the one closest to being finished and, with the windows installed and the siding attached, it offers a tantalizing glimpse at the finished development.

For Angel, 39, it brings back memories of his parents talking about building the house he grew up in at a similar low-income development in Hollister.

“My mom, Alicia, was pregnant with me,” he said. “She would talk about how she was up putting on the roof when she had me, with my three-year-old sister up there with her, tied up because they had to keep an eye on her. I didn’t know what they had gone through, and now I understand.”

Experienced at homebuilding, Alicia encouraged the couple to apply for the project and has been there for them, along with other family members, throughout the year.

“She has been one of our greatest advocates,” Angel said. “She is 67, but she’s still willing to come out here and put in hours. She doesn’t just come here to stand around, she wants to get working. And if she’s not actually doing something, she is looking for something to do.”

Sarah and Angel De Avila in their new home. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Sarah and Angel De Avila in their new home. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Sarah said that when she first started the project, she didn’t know how to use a hammer, but is now something of an old pro.

We had great training, and sometimes I think my husband and I could build a house on our own,” she said. “I never thought I could actually build something that could be considered structurally sound for somebody to live in. But you learn the techniques and the codes that must be followed for everything to be safe.”

Angel said the construction supervisors have been great to work with and have been very understanding as they trained this novice crew.

“Everybody has been exceptionally nice, especially Bobby,” Angel said. “He’s guided us from the beginning, when we put the first nails into the framing, all the way up until what we’re doing now, which is siding. He’s an excellent source of knowledge, and he’s very approachable anytime. If you ask him a question, he drops what he’s doing, and he shows you exactly how to do it.

With changes in safety rules, children are not allowed on the site so the De Avila’s sons and daughters, aged 15, 12, 11, and 9, don’t get to spend much time with their parents on weekends.

“It is tough,” Sarah, 35, said. “We explain to them that we have to be on the site, building a home for them, but for over a year, we have not had any quality family time. The kids are very excited about moving into our new home, but they are discouraged because there has not been any time to do anything else.”

The balance between working for a living and carving out time to keep up with the building schedule has been difficult.

“I am in code enforcement in Seaside,” Angel said. “With the commute, that’s nine hours of work, five days a week. And we have to keep up with our hours on the weekend. I had a health incident in December that took me out for a few weeks, and they told me to take things easier. Sometimes we feel burnt out, and it’s been a challenge. But we’ve been managing.”

As they near the end of the project, they look forward to the comfort and stability of a home of their own, built by their own hands. And their children are excited too—at a recent open house for the families, they marked their initials on the walls of the bedrooms they want.

“It has been a fun ride,” Angel said. “It has been hard work, and they told us at the beginning that you’re going to be doing things that people that work in the trade sometimes take four years to learn. I know that we’re not done yet and we still have quite a ways to go. But I would encourage anyone interested in a project like this to do it. You say goodbye to vacations for a year and a half but it is worth it.”

The second group of builders, taking on the final 12 houses of the project, began their work on May 8, 2022, and are moving forward quickly.

“They have the advantage of knowing all the bugs have been worked out with group one,” Ruvalcaba said. “And they know the first group was out here when it was nothing but concrete. And the second group is now looking at them finishing, and that gives them a lot of motivation.”



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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.