A role model to follow in the community
NATIONAL CITY – Undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges for former addicts is the opportunity for a second chance. Unfortunately, a significant number of them fall back into their addictions finding no support to continue their recovery process.
Kindly and with an open heart, Raquel Ibarra decided to bring hope to these people when, about four years ago, she converted three of her properties into rehabilitation homes for these special tenants.
“These houses accept and support former addicts who try to live sober moving forward, live healthy and stay away from vices. Knowing that I can do something for them provides me satisfaction,” said Ibarra.
Raquel Ibarra, born in Jalisco and grew up in Tijuana, came to U.S. 28 years ago in 1981, at age 21. She started cleaning houses with her mother and sisters; meanwhile she was learning English by herself. Then she became a cleaning business owner, and after 20 years she and her sister bought their first duplex house in City Heights.
After a while she had eight properties, half of them rented to sober ex-addicts, among them veterans, disabled and deaf people.
Today, Ibarra has become an essential part to ex-alcoholics, who are struggling to re-establish themselves within society.
What began as a purchase in investment properties through a business plan has become a humanitarian action that very few could have imagined.
Despite her constant struggle as a property owner in a down real estate market, as well as the many headaches of buying houses to provide shelter to ten and eleven people per house, Ibarra does not see this as business, but a good way to help the community.
Her properties are part of the program – Sober Living, which is a network of rental houses as an option for those who leave rehabilitation centers and look forward to continue their recovery process.
“These are not regular rental homes; these are temporary, drug and alcohol free places to live, where the tenants find support from each other with their fight against their addictions. Here all of us are one united family,” Ibarra added.
According to Ibarra, all tenants are referred by the Sober Living Coalition of San Diego, which serves as support for all rehabilitation and recovery.
“Those who come here have already been or are graduates of rehabilitation programs, and they are committed to live a sober life,” she said.
According to Ibarra, these properties do not offer programs or classes to get out of addictions, and they are only temporary homes while being monitored by counselors and therapists.
“Anyone who lives here knows well that they must stay sober. This property has zero tolerance, which means all of them have to obey our strict rules. For instance, if someone is causing trouble, we just call the police. All four tenants know this very well,” she added.
Ibarra believes that by maintaining these houses she can support the community. These people are trying to re-establish themselves, and become part of society. This is the main reason they need support and help.
“Not a lot of landlords let ex-addicts live in their houses. Most ex-addicts cannot return to their homes. Most of them come from broken homes and where their addiction originated, so it is important they find this type of housing,” she said.
When she first started this program Ibarra had three houses in it, but currently she only has one support house, where eleven men live between 24 and 50 years old, including a supervisor and assistant who help monitor the rules.
Ibarra says that it has been hard to maintain these properties for the past four years. It has been a great sacrifice; as well as constant struggle not only to monitor and assure that everything is fine with her property, but also have enough tenants paying on time their rent to help her make the mortgage payments.
Ibarra went into ‘Sober Living’ program trying to save the properties that she had purchased as investments when the housing market was hot and she easily qualified to buy them.
After the real estate went down and financial crisis started in 2006, she became one of the millions of people in the country that saw their homes devalued, and lost their properties and money.
“I entered into buying houses with my sister, and then we started our personal path to selling homes. By 2006, I used to have eight houses with five and six bedrooms each one and rented separately. However, the problem came when the properties were devalued and I could not make the payments any longer”, she recounted.
In her fight to save her investments Ibarra heard about the support program for sober living houses, and decided to try it, she found a way to support her mortgages and help not only herself but others.
After the bad experiences of losing her properties, Ibarra has decided to stay and keep only two properties: one for Sober Living, which currently has tenants, and another where she herself lives. “I want to live in peace, and it was very draining keeping all my properties”, she narrated.
She explains that maintaining sober houses is very difficult, while ex-addicts are being rehabilitated they can not easily find a job and they cannot pay their rent on time.
“It truly was a major problem especially in the beginning. Now I plan to work in yet another business, and dedicate my time to my family,” she said.
Ibarra said that in four years she has kept sober houses, she has learned how to handle and select tenants.
At first she picked up the homeless and people who were not ready for rehabilitation and would soon return to the streets and their addictions. Many of them destroyed the houses or stole. Now she only works with the Coalition of Sober people who refer people who are serious about staying on the road to recovery.
“I thought that by giving people a roof they would change, but I realized they needed professional help. I noticed when they go out of the hospital, and they needed support, a place to stay and finish their rehab program, this is when they need my aid. I am part of that process and I really like to help”, she said.
As a landlord, Raquel Ibarra is planning to continue her good deeds to support anyone who wants to live sober, even with just a single property to offer!