Mis Ángeles: 3 Friends In Southeast LA Turn To Social Media To Fund Remodels For LA's Working Poor
Like many major modern tech innovations, Hood Renovationz started in a small room as the brainchild of some college buddies. Except this one began in Huntington Park, a neighborhood in Southeast Los Angeles County that's 97% Latino.
Jobs and Wozniak. Gates and Allen. Page and Brin.
That's the vibe I got when I hopped on a Zoom this week with Daisy Figueroa, Francisco Millan and Joseph Rios, three young Brown entrepreneurs who met at UC Berkeley and created Hood Renovationz in a tiny Huntington Park apartment.
I like the sound of it: Figueroa, Millan and Rios.
The fledgling Latino-owned start-up gives away home renovations to L.A.'s most marginalized residents. It has already raised thousands in micro donations and done several jobs including a kitchen remodel, multiple bedroom renovations, and several small but important repairs.
"This is one of the most direct ways that we can impact the community in a positive way," Daisy told me. "Tenants have rights, but oftentimes, there's a language barrier. And if we want to get into more in depth, there is often immigration status that prevents people from speaking up and demanding that the home that they live in is actually habitable or, you know, fixed in a certain way."
The trio does all the work and labor themselves, for now. Most people they've worked with so far are renters. They ask landlords for permission, Daisy said, but so far haven't been turned down. After all, she said, "they're not paying."
Daisy's from Huntington Park and has an expertise in law and policy. Francisco is the finance guy. He grew up in Pico-Union.
Joseph, a fourth-generation Fresnan, is a poet who learned building skills from his grandfather growing up in California's Central Valley. He's been passing that knowledge to Daisy and Francisco.
Joseph said, "The house I grew up in, my grandfather built from the ground up. Since I was little, he would always have me [build and repair] stuff. And as he got older, as I got older, he got less capable of doing stuff and I became more capable of doing stuff. He kind of was like the brain and I was the body."
When I spoke to the Hood Renovationz team, they were in the planning stages of building space-saving desks that fold into a bookshelf for kids who don't have a dedicated space to attend school from home.
"We started seeing all these students now having to figure out how to go to school from home, and they may never have had a study space dedicated in their house or apartment," Francisco said.
AN OVERWHELMING NEED
The idea was to donate a desk at random and move on to the next big renovation. Then they announced the giveaway on Instagram. When people started sending in messages about how much a desk would help their kids, they realized there was an overwhelming need.
"People shared their stories with us and we're very vulnerable about their living situations," Daisy explained. "Us three, coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, know how personal that is."
Having a personal connection to growing up in a place without a lot of resources is how Hood Renovationz began.
Daisy grew up with two sisters and her parents, all living in a small one-bedroom apartment on Hood Avenue in Huntington Park. After they all left for college, their parents continued to live modestly in the unit, sleeping in bunk beds and unable to get the landlord to make even minor updates.
"There were a lot of things wrong with that room. The front of the floor was broken. It definitely needed a new paint job," Daisy recalled.
She decided to renovate the space, ditch the family bunk beds, and give her parents their first real bedroom since they migrated to Los Angeles in the early 1980s. It was her way of giving back. Thanks to her parents' sacrifices and hard work, Daisy was able to attend Berkeley for her undergraduate degree, and then to law school in Boston.
"When they migrated here, they left absolutely everything behind," Daisy said. "I don't think that the day goes by without me thanking my parents for all the opportunities I have to live here and pursue life here."
Daisy had a vision, not just for remodeling her parents' room but for what could be done for families just like hers. She called her friends Joseph and Francisco up and Hood Renovationz was born.
The plan started with that one room and a video that was so full of love, it went viral.
"What we did at Daisy's parents' house, on the one hand, was encouraging and sort of empowering to see all these other people expressing that they had grown up in a similar situation, and that they felt seen by what we were doing," Joseph said.
But he said it also broke his heart to see how big the need for something like Hood Renovationz was in Los Angeles.
"[We] realized just how immense and great the need is in this city and in plenty of other cities. There's very serious housing shortages, and very serious housing issues related to the rising cost of living [especially] now that we're in a pandemic," Joseph explained.
The support from people went beyond Instagram comments and messages. They began to donate funds. A lot of donations are for $5 and some can go as high as $200.
They raised just under $8,000 on GoFundMe in about a week, enough to get to work on individual projects and begin the legal process of creating a business.
The Hood Renovationz team said it isn't quite sure yet how they will take their business model to the next stage. But speaking to these three talented and motivated individuals, I got the feeling that the ceiling is high.
One idea Hood Renovationz is considering is a buy-one, give-one model, where someone can buy one of these innovative, affordable desks they've created, which in turn lets the team donate one to a family in need.
"I think the spirit of what we started is what we want to continue to transcend, which is really helping out people, and this is one way that we found that we can do it now," Francisco said. "Hood Renovations could transform [as a business model] but what we are trying to do will stay the same, which is helping out marginalized communities by finding ways to improve people's lives."
It makes sense to me that people from a community who understand it, and who have incredible empathy for its people and their struggles, are really the best ones to offer solutions to those struggles. These aren't charitable outsiders. The love is homegrown.
And I'm hoping that Hood Renovationz becomes known as the next big business innovation started by some college homies, and that many more will follow from small rooms in places like Huntington Park.
Southeast L.A. forever!
About the Mis Ángeles column: Erick Galindo is chronicling life in Los Angeles for LAist. He took on this role after serving as our immigrant communities reporter. Erick came to us last year from LA Taco, where he was the managing editor of a James Beard award-winning staff.
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