Each day as Olga Nolasco diligently cleans the homes of her Palo Alto clients, she goes from room to well-appointed room, dusting and mopping and earning a few more dollars that she hopes will bring her closer to moving back into her own house.
Nolasco, 56, fled from her burning home in East Palo Alto six years ago, losing the residence where she lived with her aging mother, son and daughter-in-law and their baby. The fire broke out in a faulty heater in the 1-year-old child’s bedroom and spread throughout the house, she recalled.
Since the day of the fire, Dec. 9, 2015, Nolasco has faced daunting challenges: A contractor absconded with $40,000; she had to declare bankruptcy; mortgage and insurance companies wouldn’t free up money; going through the East Palo Alto planning process; eviction from the place in the East Bay that she shared with her mother and her daughter’s family.
And a heart attack from all of the stress.
Now her daughter, Janet Macedo-Campos, has organized a GoFundMe page to raise money to help her mother finish rebuilding her home.
“My mother is a hard-working single mother of six. She has been praying for this nightmare to end, but there have been so many obstacles to get this home rebuilt and move-in ready,” Macedo-Campos said.
Nolasco has owned and operated her own business, Olga’s Housecleaning, for 28 years. She purchased her Saratoga Avenue home from her parents. Before the fire, the home was the gathering place for her family — a place filled with memories and pets and the pride of home ownership after decades of hard work, she said.
After the fire, Nolasco and her 79-year-old mother, Mariana, lived with Janet and her family in a rented home where they shared a bedroom and the garage.
“I got used to hearing the rats where I was staying in the garage. They had the little babies. I tried to ignore them when I would read,” she said.
When the landlord decided to sell the home, the family was evicted. Nolasco and her mother lived in motel rooms and bounced from family member to family member. Janet and her family also had no home and moved in with Janet’s father.
One day, Nolasco felt a pressure in her chest. It was difficult to breathe. Thinking she had COVID-19, she went to the hospital emergency room. Instead, the physician informed her that she’d had a heart attack.
“The doctor said, ‘You were so lucky. You were dying,” she recalled.
When asked what had caused her so much stress, Nolasco told the doctor about the difficulties she faced with her house.
“Don’t think about your house. Think about your life,” the doctor said.
Since her heart trouble, Nolasco said she’s also lost some of the vision in her left eye due to high blood pressure. As she spoke on the phone last week, Nolasco said she is being treated for eye bleeding and inflammation.
COVID-19 has also caused a decline in house-cleaning jobs, which has resulted in less income. Some of her clients, knowing her situation, have given her extra pay to help pay her rent, she said.
While she tries to save money to complete repairs on her home, Nolasco said she’s had to pay additional costs, fees and contractor estimates, and several thousand dollars to an attorney. She’s also needed a storage unit for some of the belongings that didn’t burn, she said. Initially she thought rebuilding her home would take a year; now it’s been six.
Three years ago, she hired another contractor after the first one skipped out with her money. The new contractor was working diligently, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the work halted. In the last few months, he has returned to the project and is trying to complete it. But now he is running out of money.
Nolasco said she also has little to no money left. She needs to fund the upper kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures — four sinks and three toilets — lighting throughout the house, upgrade a gas chimney, buy and paint the home’s exterior, build backyard decks, construct the front yard railing and get a new fence. There’s also the need for new furniture. Then, there’s also the piles of construction debris and the costs to remove it.
The price tag is as high as $60,000.
Meanwhile, as the house sits empty, it remains vulnerable. Someone came and stole all of her landscaping plants, she said.
Macedo-Campos said she hopes her mother and grandmother can soon return to the home they love, find stability and live without constant worry.
“My mother is working tirelessly trying to come up with funds to get her foot back in the door and sleep in her bedroom. She doesn’t care that there will be no furnishings, she just wants to go home,” Macedo-Campos said.
“All I want is to see my mother happy again, living in her home, dancing while cooking and singing to her vegetables growing in the garden,” she said.
Anyone who wants to help Nolasco complete her home can find more information at GoFundMe.com.