Lisa Johnson had lived in her beloved house her entire life. Then she almost lost it

The one-story house that sits on Mandarin Avenue has been in Lisa Johnson’s family for more than half a century.

Johnson’s parents bought the house after moving from Montgomery, Ala., to Hayward in 1961. It’s the house she and her siblings grew up in, and it has been a constant throughout her life.

“I’ve lived in this house since I was 4 years old,” Johnson said. “I’m 62. My parents left me this house.”

The house has been there as Johnson pursued a career in dentistry and received master’s degrees in business administration, accounting and education. When her mother died in 2010, the house became hers. A relatively low mortgage payment, and rent money from tenants Johnson took on, made the home affordable to live in.

But then a series of misfortunes struck.

In 2013, health issues forced Johnson into retirement. She currently depends on an electric wheelchair to get around her house.

Johnson, 62, who uses an electric wheelchair, heads into the house in Hayward where she has lived since she was 4. Season of Sharing helped her keep her home. Photo: Paul Kuroda / Special To The Chronicle

Photo: Paul Kuroda / Special To The Chronicle

Johnson, 62, who uses an electric wheelchair, heads into the house in Hayward where she has lived since she was 4. Season of Sharing helped her keep her home.

A year ago, Johnson and her tenants were forced to move for several months after her refrigerator broke and flooded the house, which was then red-tagged for asbestos. And in May, a loan modification and supplemental tax assessment nearly tripled her monthly mortgage payment. In between, a food-borne illness landed Johnson in the hospital.

On top of all that, several deaths in the family had taken an emotional toll.

Her church helped Johnson with house repairs and assisted in finding new tenants, but the relocation after the flood and loss of rental income made it difficult for her to keep up on her mortgage payments.

She was on the brink of losing the house when one of her tenants told her about The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing, which offers one-time grants to people in unexpected crises. With the hope that the fund might save the place she’s called home for nearly her entire life, she applied and was awarded with enough to cover a monthly mortgage payment.

“It has made it possible for me to keep my house,” Johnson said. “It gave me some breathing room and it gave me some credibility because I think (her lender) thought, ‘She might not make it this time.’”

Johnson’s story stood out to Alameda County caseworker Andrea Wong, who handled her case, because of how accomplished Johnson was and how her health and other issues took over.

“It’s just a reminder … just how vulnerable our lives can be,” Wong said. “Illness, grief, stress — those things can really destabilize us.”

Now, Johnson is redecorating her home with photos of her loved ones. She’s working at a tutoring center and has a night job at a warehouse to make ends meet.

Her house, she said, will not be in the family after she’s no longer there. She said she has endowed it to her church and an educational institution. It’s her way of giving back to the people who helped her.

“If you help someone a little bit, they might be able to give (back) to you,” she said.

Sophia Kunthara is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @SophiaKunthara

How to Help

For 32 years, The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund has helped more than 150,000 Bay Area individuals and families facing unexpected life crises. Want to help? You can donate at You can also use our text message options:

<factbox_bullet>Text-to-Give: Text SOS to 27722 to make a one-time $25 donation to the Season of Sharing Fund. The donation is added to your cellphone bill.

<factbox_bullet>Text-to-Donate: Text SHARING to 27722 to make a donation to the Season of Sharing Fund using your credit card.

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