Families say housing authority fails to support their dreams of self-reliance

March 17, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The tears welling in the eyes of Guadalupe Colmenares tell a story of a life gone from bad to worse.

She said her life has been torn apart by her husband, Enrique, the manager of Calexico Gardens on Rockwood Avenue, and Lupita Rios, executive director of the Calexico Housing Authority.

Calexico Gardens is one of eight housing projects under Rios' control.

Guadalupe Colmenares and others said in a series of interviews last week the Housing Authority, pledged to help low-income families of Calexico and support their dreams of self-reliance, instead contributes to their struggles.

Rios said she cannot comment on specific accusations residents have made because she is sworn to protect their privacy.

Guadalupe Colmenares' story of woe begins in January of this year.

On Jan. 12 her husband served her with divorce papers she said came without warning.

She didn't know what to do and the situation in the apartment she shared with her husband, her three children and her grandchild was icy at best.


"He wouldn't talk to me. Nothing. He would sleep on the couch and I would sleep in the room," Guadalupe said.

In early February she went to Rios for help.

She says Rios told her she could live in the Calexico Gardens apartment for 45 days, which would be enough time for the divorce to be processed.

"I asked her, ‘How do you know?'" Colmenares said. "How did she know it was going to take 45 days? She's never been married."

Faced with the prospect of spending 45 days in a cramped apartment with a man who wouldn't talk to her, Colmenares sought legal advice.

She said legal council in El Centro told her her husband would have to move out because in divorce proceedings a wife and mother normally get to stay in a home.

"And he has a house in Mexicali and a car," Colmenares said. "I have nowhere to go."

On Feb. 8, she called police to have her husband removed. She says officers were about to take Enrique away when Rios stepped in.

"She butted in and said to the officers, ‘I think there is still love in the family,'" Colmenares said.

Colmenares said she thinks Rios is protecting Enrique because he is the manager of the apartments.

She thinks legally she could get the Calexico Gardens apartment in the event of a divorce even though her husband is the manager.

"It shouldn't matter if he is the president," Guadalupe said.

Colmenares has moved back into the apartment with her husband after stints in two local shelters.

She doesn't know the status of her divorce and doesn't know if she will be allowed to stay or if she even wants to stay now that the 45 days has expired.

She is attempting to find a job as a teacher's aide so she can find her own place.


Maria Boroquez has two daughters, a son and six grandchildren. Her older daughter has five children. Their ages are 10, 7, 6, 3 and 2.

Their mother is in jail on drug-trafficking charges.

At various times, all 10 have lived in the three-bedroom home she rents from the Housing Authority in southwest Calexico.

Boroquez said she takes care of her daughter's five children because they have nowhere else to go.

She said her daughter had been released from jail months ago and asked Rios for an apartment so she could take care of her children. Rios denied her request.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations state convicted felons cannot rent public housing.

Boroquez knows the regulations but thinks Rios should have helped her daughter because her daughter campaigned for Rios during her failed attempt at a City Council seat.

Boroquez thinks her daughter would not be back in jail if Rios had helped her.

Rios has not been happy with her former supporter's five children, Boroquez said.

"One of the boys was riding a bike near the new playground and made a skid mark on the Astroturf," Boroquez said.

She said Rios made a big deal about it and called her into her office. Other residents said Rios was quite concerned about the skid mark.

"When she called me in for a meeting she treated me like I was responsible," Boroquez said. "The boy is 6-years-old."

"Lately I keep the kids locked into the house," she added.

"I'm afraid to let the kids out because we all might be evicted."


Emma Pando doesn't know why people are vandalizing her Housing Authority home near Casas del Sol.

She has found oily residue on her doors. A large yellowing stain on her front door is from someone throwing something at it, she said. Her back door has similar-colored splotches near the handle.

She doesn't know if it is acid. She put a crucifix between the security door and the wooden door behind it. The crucifix fell apart from whatever was tossed on it, she said.

The worst thing, though, was the bra.

"One morning we woke up to find a bra soaked in blood hung on our door knob," Pando said.

She said she has called the police and reported the matters to Rios.

Rios said maybe the Housing Authority would put in security cameras to catch whoever was vandalizing the house, Pando said.

No cameras have been put up.

The problem has been going on for four years. Pando has rented from the Housing Authority for 18 years.

She said Rios has not done enough to stop her from being harassed.

"I haven't even shown you the foot yet," Pando said.

"The foot" is a small footprint on the top of Pando's trash can. She doesn't know how it got there.

She said sometimes things are "written" on the back wall of her house.

She said she doesn't know what is going on but cameras would help her family sleep better at night.

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