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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Fair Housing Napa Valley - An Optimistic Vision

By Linda Bausch

Fair Housing Napa Valley’s (FHNV) Executive Director, Pablo Zatarain, anticipates a bright outlook for the next four years, as FHNV welcomes the return of a few previous board members. Some in new positions—the remainder have been filled with newly elected members who are prepared to contribute their individual expertise and collective efforts as the needs of Napa Valley’s tenants or property owners are addressed.

The main objective of FHNV is to provide, “…free, objective, and confidential services to both tenants and landlords to help them understand their rights and responsibilities under state and local laws and ordinances that affect the rental relationship.”

Fair Housing Napa Valley is an equal opportunity program, funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other local government agencies which provide a set amount of financial capacity. Gaps in funding are filled with donations garnered with support from partnering agencies, local businesses, and individuals.

In October, Embassy Suites will host the second Noche de Catrinas Gala. (Teresa Foster is the Chair for the 2023 Gala. Please keep an eye on the FHNV website for more information.) These funds create the opportunity to hire new staff, provide education about available services, while raising awareness of housing issues facing local residents.

FHNV operates under the belief that many disputes between tenants and landlords can be avoided or addressed effectively if both parties obtain an objective explanation of their rights and responsibilities. FHNV’s main strategy is to reduce the risk of renters being displaced due to unresolved issues. One out of ten cases may be a dispute where the landlord is the party in need of FHNV support. Disputes are handled through mediation. Although the services provided are much broader than this list, some of the types of disputes addressed are:

  • Leases and month-to-month rental agreements; changes in rental terms

  • Repairs; rights and responsibilities of the landlord and tenant(s)

  • Habitability and code enforcement compliance

  • A landlord’s right to enter the rental unit and a tenant’s right to privacy

  • Rental increases and other notices

  • Notices to vacate and terminate the rental relationship

  • Handling security deposits; requirements for move-out inspections; the process for refunding the deposit Landlord/Tenant workshops

Maria Cisneros, the newly elected Board Chair, (previously secretary) will spend her term continuing the good work of the previous Board, guiding the non-profit agency with her wisdom and vast experience. This board position is only one of the honors which Maria is enjoying at this time. Her exemplary work and dedication as an educator and administrator has been recognized by the Association of California School Administrators named Maria as Alternative/Ed Options Administrator of the Year, for both Region Four and the state of California. Congratulations!

Maria has held numerous positions which allow her a unique, well-rounded footing to take on the responsibility of FHNV Board Chair—without hesitation. Maria is currently in her 18th year of service as Principal of Valley Oak High School. In the spring of 2022, Maria also took on the role of principal of Napa Valley Independent Studies. Her impressive list of accomplishments is far too long to note here.

Maria’s life and strong family values, prepared her well for her future. “My early years in Jalisco, Mexico, we lived on a ranch outside of town where we were farmers. As kids we were always busy taking care of whatever livestock we had, planting the fields, harvesting, helping dad with collecting honey from our beehives collecting eggs. Although life was simple, as kids we learned the value of hard work at a young age.”

Maria moved to the US with her family in July of 1979 at the tender age of ten. Her journey was dangerous and most certainly frightening for all, but especially a young girl. Eventually, the entire family of twelve made their way to California, beginning a new life full of hope. It was their father’s dream to offer a better future. Within days of arriving in LA, Maria’s brother moved the family to Lake County where they would continue to live on farm lands and worked those lands through high school. “I attended the local schools, got involved in athletics, student government and community service. These experiences shaped me as I moved on to college as a first generation, college bound student and first to graduate from a 4-year university in a family of 10. I also worked for our landlord in the fields picking pears or walnuts.

“I remember a cold fall evening, we were picking walnuts, it was muddy, and we had to collect enough walnuts to fill 100 sacks. We were working by the side of the highway and my friends drove by. I could hear the music and their joy. That night, I made the decision that I would not be a farmworker the rest of my life. I was going to take advantage of school and go to college and get out of this hardworking life. Don’t get me wrong, we were so fortunate to have the job. This experience taught me the value of hard work and the dollar. It taught me that anything is possible as long as you work hard and stay the course. I also cleaned a house very Saturday morning for a local couple that raised sheep. My family taught me to figure out what my contribution to the world would look like. I learned that I had choices that may be hard for a Latina who was being raised in a traditional Mexican home. Thanks to my parents’ focus on education and a better future, I was allowed to move away and go to college. I was a 3-sport athlete—volleyball, basketball and softball. My first leadership position was ASB president in my junior school. After that, I stayed involved in student government and finished my year as the Class of 1987 Senior Class president.”

About becoming involved with FHNV, Maria said, “About six years ago, I was asked by the president of the Community Foundation to join some former Foundation board members to help lead FHNV. I said yes because I saw first-hand how unfair rental practices hurt families. Some of those families were and are my students.”

Maria’s skills from her “day job” will transfer to her responsibilities at FHNV naturally. “My day job is really about being present and listening. I find that as a board member, these skills are essential because one has to understand the needs of the agency before one can look at impact.”

I asked Pablo Zatarain if he was encouraged by progress being made to expand the amount of affordable housing in the Valley, he replied eagerly, on a positive note, “Yes. Projects are in the works. Our mission as an agency is growing housing opportunities and expanding availability.”

Concluding our interview, Pablo added, “The most important thing I’d like to express is that at Fair Housing Napa Valley—our staff is at the center of everything we do. We are a small staff of six full-time employees, each one shouldering a big load. We are successful in our programs due to their hard work.”

With the combined efforts of the entire Board and Staff, Fair Housing Napa Valley has a bright future. | 252.5420


Embassy Suites will host the Second Noche de Catrinas Gala

October 2023 |


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