From the outside, the Conejo Creek Condos look like anywhere else in Newbury Park, the Ventura County suburban community. Inside is more chaotic. The immigrants from rural Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who live packed into the units call the complex Las Casitas. From a story by Sonic Trace producer Anayansi Diaz-Cortes for KCRW:
The neighborhood is a tracked [sic] housing development with 135 “big-looking houses” or buildings, for a total of 540 apartments. Each apartment has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room....
The two-bedroom units in Las Casitas will house up to ten people at a time. People rent the couches in the living room, corners on the floor, cubby holes under the stairs and sometimes an entire family of four will live in one bedroom.
To accommodate everyone, the kitchen pantries will transform into closets for keeping clothes and shoes; or partition walls will be built in the living room for more privacy.
Inside, Las Casitas feels chaotic, messy and unpredictable. But there are residents like Navia Ortiz who have found a haven there. Navia came to Newbury Park, Calif., from a rural village in Guatemala eighteen years ago. She used to rent a piece of floor in a living room in Las Casitas. Today, she is on the lease, pays $1,300 and rents to eight recently arrived immigrants. This past decade, her apartment has been the first step to 70 or 80 immigrants. She says it’s her life’s purpose to give recent arrivals a home during their first months and years in the U.S.
The editor of the piece was Lu Olkowski with sound design by Ray Guarna.