A legacy of fighting for the poor: Remembering Supervisor John J. Benoit

The end of Duroville and the legacy...

THERMAL, Calif. - The nightly soccer game is a tradition at Mountain View Estates in Thermal. The children kicking the ball have parents who are low-income farm workers who spend hours every day doing back-breaking labor picking crops in the fertile fields of the east valley.

Life is pretty good now for these families, especially compared to a few years ago. Before 2013 they lived in Duroville, a decrepit cesspool of open sewage and ramshackle housing.  

What was it like living there? "It was horrible, because there were dogs that would not let us go an play at our friends," said Enoc Servantes, 10, who moved with his family to Mountain View Estates.  

"It is very different, because it is healthier to live here," said Sylvia Esteban who was raising three children in Duroville. "Here there are paved roads, and [in Duroville] there was garbage everywhere. We have hot water here so our children don't have to suffer bathing in cold water."  

Supervisor John J. Benoit, who recently passed after a short battle with pancreatic cancer, worked tirelessly to help these families. 

"With a supervisor like John Benoit, he understood the needs and he listened to the people and he realized that this is something that had to be done, said Bobby Melkesian, owner of Desert Empire Homes, the company that was contracted to build and operate Mountain View Estates.  

Benoit worked to secure funding to build low income housing for the 181 families, which was difficult after the state shut down funding for redevelopment associations while Mountain View Estates was being built. Management at the park says funding is still hard to come by.

There are still two sections of the park that are yet to be built. The company is planning to have 30 new homes built by June that would be funded through the county. Fifty more homes would be built by next year. In total there is space for 200 more new homes for low income families, but that's only Desert Empire Homes can secure funding for the builds.

"We need to reinvent and reinvigorate the affordable housing program and that would have to happen at the state and the local level," Melkesian said.

KESQ and CBS Local 2 reporter Joe Galli went back to Duroville and found the place being taken over by desert landscape. Only the owner's trailer remains standing on the property.

Mountain View Estates stands as a vibrant safe community, a physical mark of the hard work and determination of the late supervisor Benoit to make the Coachella Valley a better place to live for all people, rich and poor.

Management with Mountain View Estates hopes that whoever will be the next Riverside County Supervisor will fight for the rights of low income workers and continue to find funding for affordable housing. 


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