Laura Ayase inspects the newly installed mailbox at her townhome near the corner of 400 North and Riversands Drive. She is one of six families who began to move into the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah project over the weekend. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

Laura Ayase is a grown woman who lived with her mother for the last five years because she couldn’t find affordable housing in Moab; Sam Allred is a young boy who grew up in a basement apartment for similar reasons.

Until last weekend, that is.

The new neighbors are among six families who are in varying stages of moving into the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah’s Deer Trail townhomes on the corner of 400 North and Riversands Drive.

The housing authority broke ground on the six-unit project last November, and after the families put in at least 30 hours of “sweat equity” work per week since construction began, they finally began to settle into their new homes on Saturday, July 11.

Ayase marvels at the long-awaited change in her circumstances.

“It’s a blessing,” she said.

“It’s taken me a long time to get my credit good enough and to qualify for a home,” she said. “They really helped me out.”

Both Ayase and Sam’s mother, Leslie Allred, agree that the process leading up to last weekend is not for people who are afraid of doing a lot of hard work.

“It’s very intense and very time-consuming, because you need to get those 30 hours a week in,” Allred said.

At first, Allred said that all of the families had to go through a steep learning curve.

“You have a bunch of people who know nothing about homebuilding, learning together,” Allred said.

Fortunately, HASU construction supervisor Chad McDonald was on site to help out, while HASU contractors handled the electrical and plumbing work and other technical jobs.

Still, Allred found that her family’s workload increased as they neared the end of the project.

Even so, she said that the sweat equity was the best option for her family.

“To get a nice, new home, this was a good way to go,” she said.

Allred is mainly a stay-at-home mother who works part-time for the U.S. Geological Survey, while her husband Chad is a full-time National Park Service ranger.

The family had been living in a basement-unit apartment since they moved to Moab in 2009, and they’re thrilled to be within walking distance of Helen M. Knight Elementary School, the Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center and Swanny City Park.

“We love the location,” she said.

Ayase credited McDonald, HASU employee Wanda Rebeijo and HASU Executive Director Ben Riley for helping the six families, and she encouraged other people who have struggled to find affordable housing to give HASU a call for more information about the Mutual Self-Help program.

“It’s a good program,” she said. “It helps a lot of people. If somebody needs a home, they need to get on it (and contact HASU).”

It may be too late to apply for the agency’s next project: Four single-family homes on Murphy Lane. Six qualified families have already turned in their applications, and the housing authority will have to whittle that number down to four.

Riley said he’s hoping to close on the loans and start construction in early August.

HASU purchased the property on its own, giving it control over the land prices. That, in turn, allows it to help very low-income applicants who would otherwise have trouble qualifying for loans to build their own homes.

“That’s been the primary challenge in the past: land availability and the land price,” Riley said. “In the past, we just bought developed lots from a developer, which has been limiting.”

The project is funded through a two-year Mutual-Self Help grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, which amounts to about two-third of the housing authority’s total annual budget.

“It allows us to do more, as long as the funding sources are there,” Riley said.

Next on the list is a 30-home project in Spanish Valley; Riley said he hopes to begin construction work on that development next summer.

HASU Board member Audrey Graham credited board chair Cathy Bonde for finding the Murphy Lane property, which was not listed on the market at the time.

She said she believes the area is a good location for other affordable housing projects in the future, including higher-density developments that cost less to build.

“I, for one, think we do need some higher density close to town, and that may include some on Murphy Lane and Spanish Valley Drive,” she said. “It’s time to do that, rather than forcing people who work in town to have to live far, far out in Spanish Valley, which is what we had to do during the boom cycle.”

Graham is much less enthusiastic about plans to develop affordable housing farther south in Spanish Valley.

“If we put affordable housing out there, or high-density housing out there, we’re forcing all those people to own not one car but two, usually … or more,” she said. “We’re forcing more pavement. It all just cascades, and then those low-income people have a harder time getting to a place where they can buy a house and move out of low-income housing.”

Riley said the housing authority is well aware of those concerns, and hopes to find more land closer to downtown Moab.

“We’re working really hard to try to create another multi-family housing project in Moab city,” he said.

He sees signs that momentum is growing at the city level to foster the development of affordable housing near Moab’s city center.

“I’m hoping that given the current environment for affordable housing that they would be willing to do that,” he said. “There seems to be a drive with the city and the new city manager to work toward a solution.”

Housing authority plans to follow Deer Trail with four-home project

“It’s taken me a long time to get my credit good enough and to qualify for a home … They really helped me out.”

For more information, contact the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah at 435-259-5891.