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Nonprofit helping Latino-heavy City Heights for more than 40 years

The City Heights Community Development Corporation started as a grassroots campaign during I-15's construction. It now helps businesses and residents succeed.

SAN DIEGO — A City Heights nonprofit has been working to better the neighborhood and help its residents for more than 40 years - even through the COVID-19 pandemic.

"My kids are 5 and 3," City Heights resident Corayma Campuzano, said as she beamed, watching them run around the playground. "They're full of energy, healthy, and happy."

Like almost any parent, her priority is keeping them safe, fed, and with a roof over their heads. Something that can be hard to do in today's world.

"My money got stolen," Campuzano explained of a situation leaving her in a bind. "Nobody plans for something like that, obviously."

A friend had told Campuzano of places where she could find some help. After debating, she finally applied for cash assistance from the City Heights Community Development Corporation to help pay the bills.

"It was a check for utilities and gas," she said. "That one helped me out, like right away." 

Executive Director Laura Ann Fernea is in her 11th year as the nonprofit's head.

"What we try to do in City Heights as an organization is basically enhance the quality of life in City Heights for people who live here," she said.

They do so by building and renting out more than 400 affordable housing apartments throughout the city, helping small businesses with grants and applications for federal money, fighting for better public transportation throughout the neighborhood, and helping to prevent evictions.

"Does the landlord have the right to call me and tell me to leave? No. Does the landlord have the right to tell me if I don't pay the rent by tomorrow I have to leave? No. There are laws that protect tenants," she explained. "It seems so simple, but just giving them that basic information can make this huge difference."

Not to mention, helping people in their language. Fernea says two-thirds of City Heights is Latinx,  more than the ratio for San Diego county. All of the group's caseworkers are bilingual, and so are their websites.

"I'm really proud of the fact many of our staff speak Spanish... and care a lot about our mission," said Fernea.

A mission as important as saving someone from eviction, or helping out with some bills when times are tough.

The nonprofit's pooled several eviction resources under one roof, in its eviction prevention collaborative.