Sunday, October 23, 2016

Family fundraising to rebuild Echo Park grandmother’s home

Fundraising appeal for Margarita Rodriguez, "Mama Tita," in front of construction site

Fundraising appeal for Margarita Rodriguez, “Mami Tita,” in front of construction site


ECHO PARK — The family of an 82-year-old woman who lost her Echo Park home in a fire has rallied to her support, maxing out their credit cards to buy building materials and starting a crowd funding effort to rebuild the house. However, the fundraiser is nowhere near its $50,000 goal, and last week the money ran out and construction on the unfinished home stopped.

Margarita Rodriguez, known to her family as “Mami Tita,”  escaped the December 2013 blaze on Effie Street unscathed, but the home was a complete loss and all of her personal belongings were destroyed. The home was also “grossly underinsured,” leaving  Rodriguez and her family struggling to raise the necessary funds to rebuild.

“We’re trying to [rebuild] as soon as possible,” said Helen Davidson, Rodriguez’ granddaughter. “I just know she wants to be at her house.”

The rebuilding project has suffered several setbacks, including a dispute with a contractor and rebuilding a brick foundation, which had to be removed by hand before a new concrete base could be built.

“That set us back,” said Mario Talamantes, who has been helping deal with architects, building permits and inspections. “We had to resubmit to the [city building department] to take out the footings and put in new ones.”

While Talamantes and Davidson say that many people have helped out, Rodriguez’s family has used its savings and maxed out its credit cards to purchase building materials and cover the labor needed to start rebuilding. The family began an online fundraiser – Grandma Needs a Roof at gofundme.com – to pay for new plumbing and electrical systems, air conditioning, heating, insulation, dry wall, roofing, stucco, windows and doors, Talamantes said.

But, as of today, Jan. 26, only about $1,425 had been raised. It’s not clear when construction will resume.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez, a retired downtown hotel worker who moved to Effie Street in the early 1960s, has been living in Rancho Cucamonga with her granddaughter. While she appreciates her family’s support, Rodriguez misses her home and active life in Echo Park.

“She took the bus to church and to the market,” Davidson said. “Where we live, none of that is close. She’s dependent on us.”

In a phone interview, Rodriguez said she can’t wait to return to Echo Park.

“I’m at peace but I would like to be home,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez' home after the fire | Courtesy Davidson family

Rodriguez’ home after the fire | Courtesy Davidson family

Rodriguez' family needs to raise at least $50,000 to finish rebuilding

Rodriguez’ family needs to raise at least $50,000 to finish rebuilding

Maria Rodriguez had lived in her Effie Street home since the early 1960s | Courtesy Davidson family

Maria Rodriguez had lived in her Effie Street home since the early 1960s | Courtesy Davidson family

Matt Sanderson has been a journalist, photographer and digital media producer for nearly eight years. A native of Rhode Island, he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire and moved to Los Angeles in 2012 through a job transfer with Patch.com/AOL

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  1. I’m sorry for her misfortune. However, I find it consider this charity. I assume she owns her home. There are homes up the block from her on lemoyne that have sold for 600, 700, and even 900,000 within the last 3 years. I know that home construction in LA is expensive, but if the rebuild is sizable, then she will own a home that is worth 600 to $900,000. The people who give $$$ to her contruction will get their money back when the family sells the house? Isn’t it possible to get a home loan for construction? The land alone must be worth at least $200,000.

  2. Leave it to a cynical “some” to taint a good-faith effort by immediately calculating the math and profit instead of simply contributing to the effort to return an elderly resident to her home NOT gold mine. Besides, the math was no less applicable before the house burnt down, which is what this effort is all about. Not everything is related to a profit motive.

    • The kids are gonna be loving that fat inheritance in a couple of years.

    • It’s a reasonable thing to consider – sell off an interest in the house in exchange for cash today. When she passes away, the house can be sold, and the money plus interest paid back.

      In fact, the thing to do is build something suitable for a single person rather than a full size house. It’s probably cheaper to get that approved and built. Then, when it’s sold, there’s a bit more “greenfield” to work with if the new owner wishes to expand. That flexibility might make the smaller house more profitable.

      Companies do things like reverse mortgages. I’m sure something can be worked out.

  3. it’s a sad story, but it begs questions:: why was the home “grossly underinsured”, and isn’t that the fault of the homeowner? and now her family has made matters worse by draining their savings and accumulating credit card debt (the absolute worst kind) trying to rebuild, adding their own financial woes to her own?

    it sounds like a tragedy that’s been massively compounded by irresponsibility and a series of poor decisions. i have sympathy, and i hope they manage to work it out, but i’m not sure the charity is really deserved in this case.


    I agree it is sad and a lot of us could be in the same predicament. However, sometimes even us oldsters can’t have everything we want and we certainly shouldn’t turn our next generations into paupers pleasing us. Besides, when the dear lady HAS to leave her home for whatever reason, are the relatives then going to sell it and give back the donations with interest?

    Just asking . . .

  5. I know it must be difficult for this woman to have to leave the home where she lived for 50+ years, and I hope she manages to find a nice place to live out her remaining years, whether or not she ends up in her old house. However, I think her family lowers themselves when they solicit money from strangers. I feel the same way about anyone who asks for money on Gofundme.com or similar sites, unless it’s for a dire emergency. It’s no different than begging, and I’d rather put a gun in my mouth than resort to begging from complete strangers.

  6. The family is simply asking for help. No one is forced to contribute if they don’t feel it’s a worthy cause.
    Unfortunately many elderly owners don’t have the income to insure their property fully.
    Also, isn’t it better to have a re-built house in the neighborhood rather than a burned-out one, or a half-built one? If the family has to sell the partially built house, a new owner might build a huge, unsightly super-sized place.
    If I could afford to, I would help.

    • Yes Susan — agreed. The family’s simply asking for help. One has a choice to give or not. Having lived in Echo Park for more than half a century, I’ve seen how neighbors have helped neighbors and contributed to the community. We old families, including Mrs. Rodriguez, fought hard to get a Head Start created and, in those days, a teen post to help keep kids from joining gangs. Most of us were hardworking families with values one rarely sees these days. Helping Mrs. Rodriguez keep her home reflects our “old school” Echo Park community. That community has now experienced evictions in order for small lot developers to level the lands, small businesses going under because of raised rents and a value system that only speaks of money!


    • Nah. People would be just as indifferent towards an old lady of any race.

    • White Bear, your accusation of racism is utterly ridiculous, but since you’ve brought up race, why do you call yourself White Bear? What do you have against brown or black bears?

  8. The way things are going, why don’t just sell whorever is left ,pay ur debts and get rid of this problem? Donations are scarce everywhere nowadays.

  9. And THAT’s why you buy adequate insurance coverage.

  10. My mom is the same age and living alone in the same house for 50 years so I can relate.
    We have been begging her to move to a condo or something more manageable as maintaining a home is not easy for an 82 year old woman.
    It seems it would be much safer and more manageable to sell her house as-is (which would honestly fetch her close to $500k) and move her into something she can afford.
    Otherwise are they going to have another round of donations when her property taxes are due? Or when there is a construction defect since they are trying to rebuild a whole house for $50k?
    Its going to take a lot more than $50k to get that house back in suitable living condition for an 82 year old.

    • Douglas, I disagree with your comment about your mother, I don’t know either of you, but I agree with your mother, she paid I assume her house, raise her family, probably lived most of her life there. Selling her house and taking to a condo is insane, what she will be doing living only in a box? She sacrifice herself so she is not a burden to her family. The least the children can do is to support her and helper with her errands, when she leaves to the eternal place, then the heirs can sell and do wherever please them. That is my humble opinion. I decided to say this because I personally know about two cases of elderly widow and single mother who their family sold their houses one of them, his son sold the house and took the money now she hardly pay a rent and live where she doesn’t want to live. The other mother and daughter 96 and 71 years old, their nephew and niece in law, lie to them and put in a convalescent against their will, they moved to that house in the 1950’s, now the house is for sale the one next to fix. They always said that Echo Park was their life that they paid their house and debts, so their future was going to be secure they didn’t count with deceive. So think the last days of your mother should be happy and peaceful.

  11. 35-year Echo Park resident

    I suggest the family look into getting some compassionate assistance from groups such as “Christmas in July” which does volunteer work on seniors’ homes, or contact a building contractors training school, the building trades unions, and possibly Habitat for Humanity, to see whether they can supply student/trainee labor.
    There may be some help from the city too–call her councilman and ask what they can offer.

    • She also might consider taking out a construction loan (or her family members could take second mortgages on their homes, if they own homes and have some equity). Once the house is complete, she could pay off the high-interest construction loan with the proceeds from a reverse mortgage, which wouldn’t have to be paid back until she passes, or if her relatives loan her the money, she could agree to pay them back from the proceeds of her estate. There seem to be a lot of options – if she owns the house free and clear, which may not be the case.

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