Norm McLoughlin

Self-Help Program Builds Homes and Communities

Self-Help Program Builds Homes and Communities

Does more sweat make less equity? If so, 30 families should get an even bigger break for working in 90-degree temperatures on the "sweat-equity" homes they're building in Poulsbo.

Administered locally by the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, the federal Mutual Self-Help program offers first-time homeownership opportunities to residents with limited incomes. In general, families are eligible if their annual income is at or less than 80 percent of the county median.

With Kitsap County's skyrocketing property values, it's becoming increasingly difficult for single-income or low-income families to achieve home ownership. But through the Mutual Self-Help program, that opportunity is literally in their own hands. In fact, since Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority began offering the program in 1973, more than 700 homes have been completed.

Once accepted into the program, would-be homeowners can choose from a number of floor plans, ranging from about 1,100 to 1,400 square feet. If possible, KCCHA officials will accommodate their selection, providing it's a good match with the lot size, family size and ability to make payments.

Mutual Self-Help program participants are formed into building group teams of 10 to 12, working 30 hours a week on team members' homes. When necessary, members can use volunteers to help fill their hourly requirements. Work is done with the help of a professional construction supervisor and some contract labor. Generally, construction of all the homes takes 10 to 12 months.

At Vetter Homestead in Poulsbo, 30 homes are being constructed — and under the rules, no one moves in until all the homes are finished. Eventually, 93 homes will be built in the project.

For participants, the self-help program has two major financial advantages over buying a home on the open market. One is their sweat really does convert to equity. Using largely volunteer labor, they're building homes worth far more than their cost of construction. A self-help program supervisor said mortgages for the Poulsbo homes generally will range from about $160,000 to $180,000 — but comparable homes in the area are selling in the $200,000s.

Self-help program homeowners also can get a major break on their interest rates. Mortgages are carried by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service, with interest ranging from the current market rate down to 1 percent, depending on family income.

But beyond the sizeable dollars-and-cents savings, there are less obvious but equally significant advantages. Program participants are building not just homes, but solid relationships. When they move in, it will be among good friends in a well-founded neighborhood.

Home ownership is a critical element in strengthening a community. But even more so is the ability to work together, to cooperate, to recognize and cooperate in overcoming obstacles. We commend self-help program participants, the housing authority, and all others who are making that happen here.

E.W. Scripps Co.
© 2007 Kitsap Sun