ORLANDO, Fla. – When Theresa DeFairia moved into her Orlando home 31 years ago, it was the neighborhood that sealed the deal.
“I fell in love with it. I thought it was the coolest house,” Defairia said, describing the first time she set foot on the property.
“It’s so peaceful and quiet," Defairia said. "They always figure in the lower income neighborhoods there’s no Norman Rockwell, you understand, but there is a little oasis of Norman Rockwell.”
DeFairia’s oasis is far from picture perfect. The two bedroom home built in 1940 has suffered from a lack of maintenance and repair. Significant roof damage and peeling paint can be seen from the street. Tarps help protect the porch from summer rains.
DeFairia lives on disability assistance and social security. It’s enough to pay the mortgage but not much else. Over time the home has slipped into what most people would consider an uninhabitable condition.
Despite it all, DeFairia is full of life, full of energy and full of optimism.
“I think it’s beautiful, even in the raggedy condition,” DeFairia confesses, as she remembers years past. “When I see it, I see it all renewed and restored.”
In May the property caught the attention of code enforcement who issued a notice to condemn if the property was not cleaned up and water and power service restored. DeFairia had three days to comply.
DeFairia started making desperate calls. Friend, Carolina Escobar, answered.
Escobar first met “Ms. Theresa” as she calls her, while delivering Meals on Wheels. The two became good friends but DeFairia hid her living conditions. " No one knew she was living like this," Escobar said.
Escobar quickly took to social media and arranged a weekend cleanup. It was enough to satisfy the City of Orlando but Escobar said a deadline to repair the roof remains.
“Oct. 20 is the day. Like doomsday, if it isn’t done.” Escobar said. She started a GoFundMe account to help with the cost of a roof, new windows, and exterior paint.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster and the closer we’re getting to this day it’s becoming a little more real,” Escobar said. “But Ms. Theresa’s faith is just so incredibly strong. I’ve never met somebody with her faith.”
Escobar has reached out to politicians and nonprofits for help.
Frank Wells, CEO of The Central Florida Regional Housing Trust, has offered guidance.
“This is a big challenge. But his is hardly the only time we’ve seen a story like this,” Wells said. “We recognize that for someone like this who has lived in a home she loves for a long time and is comfortable here, this is a great place to be and any other outcome is going to create all kinds of other expenses as well as jeopardizing her health.”
Wells said Escobar’s drive to help her friend is inspiring.
“She’s been a total community hero to make this happen,” Wells said." It’s absolutely amazing and I can’t imagine how Ms. Theresa would get through this without this kind of community advocacy."
Up until this point DeFairia has relied on faith. All the newfound help has only reinforced her belief.
“I want to stay here because I love it here,” DeFaria said. This is where God sent me."
If you would like to help, Escobar has set up a GoFundMe account to assist with expenses.