Nineteen-year-old Alicia Harry said she never pictured herself as a single mother. Neither did she ever dream she would become a homeowner at such a young age – being a mother, however, has motivated her to work hard to achieve that goal.
The Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah’s Mutual Self Help Housing program helps individuals and families build their own homes. Each household works collaboratively on one another’s homes and no one moves in until all are completed.
“When I heard about this program, I thought ‘wow.’ The first time I applied, I didn’t make enough money,” Harry said.
So she began working two jobs, determined to reapply and eventually provide a permanent home for her 14-month-old son.
“I want to do better by him,” Harry said. “I want more space for him. I want him to grow up in that home.”
Harry was referring to the house she plans to build along with five of her future neighbors in a development called the Deer Trail Townhome Subdivision. The housing authority formally broke ground last week at the project site near the intersection of 400 North and Riversands Drive.
Professional builders will pour the foundation and do other preliminary work. The homebuyers themselves will begin to work on the homes in January. They expect to move in by May.
Clay and Leslie Allred and their three children, including a newborn, a 4-year old girl and a 2-year-old boy, have been living in a basement apartment in Moab. That’s all that they’ve been able to afford since the couple moved here in 2009.
Primarily a stay-at-home mother, Leslie Allred works part-time for the U.S. Geological Survey. Clay is a ranger at Canyonlands National Park.
Like Harry, the family is looking forward to moving into a new townhome.
“This housing program is such a blessing for us,” Clay Allred said. “We’ve worked hard, have a savings, and were intent on buying a home, but haven’t been able to find anything affordable in Moab.”
The Mutual Self Help Housing program is grant-funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office. Applicants must have a credit score of 640, be able to pay back a low-interest mortgage and be willing to work 30 hours a week toward building the group of homes. Approximately 130 homes in Moab have been built over the past two decades under the program.
Participants must also be at 80 percent or below median income; 40 percent of them must be at 50 percent or below. For example, in Moab, an eligible family of four can earn up to $46,700; an individual can earn up to $32,700.
“What I like about the program, people develop all kinds of skills,” said David Conine, Utah director of USDA’s Rural Development office in Salt Lake City. “They’re completing tasks with folks who are likely to be strangers in the beginning … They’re developing new, complex skills, and coming out with substantial equity.”
The program in Grand and San Juan counties was in jeopardy of ending after HASU was unable to find affordable property to purchase – “a typical problem in areas where there are second homes” that drive up the cost of land, Conine said.
Unable to meet the grant’s production deadline, “the board decided to discontinue the program,” said HASU director Ben Riley.
After reading about the agency’s plight in a local newspaper, a developer stepped forward with land for sale at an affordable price, Riley said. Conine’s office later extended HASU’s deadline for completing the Deer Trail development.
“The grant enables HASU to hire staff and manage the program on behalf of self-help participants,” Conine said.
The housing authority closed the deal on the property Nov. 20, with a ground-breaking ceremony held later that afternoon.
When completed, the homes will be Energy Star-rated – a U.S. Department of Energy standard indicating the house has met certain criteria toward energy efficiency and cost-savings for the homeowner.
“Participants in self-help housing get construction loans from USDA,” Conine said. “When the home is completed, that loan rolls over to be their permanent financing (their mortgage).
The Mutual Self-Help program also allows for rehabilitating newly purchased properties in need of fixing up to become livable. Currently, the housing authority is renovating a home in Blanding.
“We’re still actively looking for another rehabilitation,” Riley said.
An organization called Community Rebuilds administers another local home-building program where participants contribute their sweat equity to reduce costs. Homeowners’ costs are further reduced by incorporating passive solar into the homes’ designs.
“Moab is unusual in that it has two self-help housing grantees,” Conine said.
“(Community Rebuilds’) approach is to replace old trailer houses with straw bale homes. They recycle as much as possible from the existing structures. The houses are stunning, and affordable.”
Conine said that building a home is a “great builder of self-confidence.” At another Mutual Self-Help housing site, he recalled working with a young couple who worked dead-in jobs and struggled financially. After learning how to do stucco work while building their home, they ended up opening a stucco contracting company, he said.
Another self-help housing participant became a building inspector, Conine said.
“There are a lot of those anecdotal stories of what (building and owning a home) means to people’s career and stability,” he said.
The housing authority will apply for a new grant this winter for an additional self-help housing project, which it hopes to start next summer. HASU will begin accepting new applications in the spring.
Families use ‘sweat equity’ to reduce costs in building/ buying their own homes
This housing program is such a blessing for us.