One Man’s Wild Moreno Valley Ride

Starting in the mid-1980s, people from Los Angeles and Orange counties began moving inland in search of cheaper homes. Moreno Valley was a city that sprang up out of nowhere to take advantage of this trend. Unfortunately, the city soon became a poster child for everything bad about growth: poorly constructed homes on tiny lots; haphazard zoning; no infrastructure or services to support the new population; horrendous commutes that strained health and family life.mapdata.gif

When the 1990s housing downturn happened, Moreno Valley was one of the hardest-hit. Thousands of homes went into foreclosure, and countless Moreno Valley neighborhoods spiraled downhill. However, just like now, there grew opportunities to buy even cheaper homes, and so people came back. A story in Monday’s Los Angeles Times features a man named Bob Chiordi, who has been there since the beginning.

A 54-year-old father of two, Chiordi moved here in the ’80s, part of a modern-day land rush that for a time would make Moreno Valley the nation’s fastest-growing city.

It was a classic suburban trade-off: Chiordi was willing to endure a death-march commute into Long Beach, where he worked as a structural mechanic for McDonnell Douglas, in exchange for an opportunity to own his own house. The American Dream, it’s often called — when it all works out.

Chiordi now toils in the auto service department at Wal-Mart for $10.25 an hour, while scouring the Southland for a job more in line with his background. Moreover, for the second time since moving here, he is about to walk away from his home to foreclosure — unable to keep up with the payments.

Chiordi rode the boom into his first house, lost it, struggled to come back, bought another house, and lost that one too. It’s a roller-coaster story of hope and optimism and trying to get ahead — one that many others who got caught up in the current housing drams could probably tell.

Despite its rocky start, Moreno Valley got a second wind. In 1992, it got its very own mall, and even though the mall struggled at first, things began to look up.

In time Moreno Valley would add 50,000 more residents [it has about 180,000 now] and many, many jobs. The city dedicated new parks and other amenities, financed in part through a utility tax passed amid the panic of the first bust. By 2002 the Riverside Press-Enterprise was editorializing about the “Moreno Valley Comeback.”

Chiordi rode this tide up. He sold his business, went to work as a branch manager at an auto dealership, bought a new house and, as real estate values soared, refinanced it twice, taking out money to pay down old debts and for a family vacation. He had purchased the house for $160,000. It was now worth $420,000, at least on paper.

So optimistic was Chiordi that he quit his job to start his own business. The economy turned. He couldn’t find a job that paid as well as his dealership job. So now he’s losing his house. The story notes that there were nearly 1,200 foreclosures in Moreno Valley in the second quarter of this year, compared to 101 for Pasadena and Monrovia combined.

But, ever the optimist, Chiordi’s going to try it again.

With financial help from his extended family, Chiordi will be moving this month with his wife, two grown children and two grandchildren into a house they’ve bought on a hill in the eastern corner of town. It’s a tidy beige structure, built only four years ago, with a terra cotta roof and a backyard view of Moreno Valley spread out below. It had fallen into foreclosure last April, and the price was right.

I lived in Moreno Valley from 1993 to 1999, in a new house purchased at a developer’s foreclosure auction.  Moreno Valley is a lot like Bob Chiordi:  It often disappoints, but it keeps trying.  There are some nicer neighborhoods, mostly north of the 60 freeway; and there are some awful ones.  It may change as it matures, but it may never shed the scars of its unhappy childhood. When a city’s No. 1 attribute is its cheap housing, that’s a bad sign.

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