Self-help home building program under new administration

Families break ground on a self-help home-building site in Toquerville, Utah, Jan. 15, 2015 | Photo by Brett Brostrom, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Families looking for a path to home ownership through a “sweat equity” program such as the one in Toquerville that allowed four families to build their own homes can now apply to a new organization.

Self-Help Homes, a nonprofit charitable organization based in Provo, will be administering the program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and helps low-income families realize the dream of home ownership, Executive Director Brad Bishop said.

Participants in the USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing program must contribute at least 30 hours each week, building both their own and their neighbors’ homes.

By contributing much of the labor required to build a home – more than 1,200 hours – the families can qualify for a low-interest loan provided by the USDA, in addition to building camaraderie and forming a solid community foundation.

One of the children of a family participating in the program posing in front of a banner at the groundbreaking ceremony, Toquerville, Utah, Jan. 15, 2015 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News
The groundbreaking ceremony for Mutual Self-Help homes being built in Toquerville, Utah, Jan. 15, 2015 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News

At night and on weekends, families provide 65 to 70 percent of  the labor to build their homes, including framing, roofing, painting, landscaping and more, Bishop said, and none of the families can move in until all the homes are completed.

“If you could just see the families when they move in, how excited they are,” Bishop said. “It’s pretty neat … in the long run, they definitely learn more about themselves, and are a great example for their kids, in being able to overcome hard things.”

Self-Help Homes is currently looking for suitable property in Toquerville City, LaVerkin City or the City of Hurricane for the next group of 10 to 12 family homes, Bishop said, and applications are being taken for the program. To qualify, participants must meet income and other qualifications, including earning no more than 80 percent of the area median income.

“We expect to start a group in the fall,” Bishop said. Plans are to expand into the Cedar City area, and possibly Beaver within the next couple of years, and to run two or three groups of families at a time.

The lots the self-help program will be building their homes on, Toquerville, Utah, Jan. 15, 2015 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News
Construction begins on a home in Toquerville, Utah, Jan. 15, 2015 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News

The organization may eventually open an office in St. George, but for now, is operating out of their Provo office and taking application forms through a USDA office in Cedar City, Bishop said.

Self-Help Homes has been in operation since 2000, Bishop said, building 372 homes primarily in Utah and Wasatch counties. The homes are beautiful, he said, and are Energy Star rated to help reduce utility costs.

“It’s been an amazing process,” Bishop said, “We never dreamed we’d be able to help as many people as we’ve been able to, it’s very fun.”

In the 15 years, there have only been five foreclosures, or less than 1.5 percent of homeowners, Bishop said, adding: “A 98.5 percent success rate is how we look at it.”

Self-Help Homes is taking over the Mutual Self-Help Housing program from the Five County Association of Governments, which has been running the program on a temporary basis since late 2013. After the four Toquerville homes are completed in July or August, the grant will run out, Five County Executive Director Bryan Thiriot said.

The Five County board chose not to renew another grant application, Thiriot said, because they felt that a nonprofit agency could better administer the program, and potentially expand the program into Beaver, Iron, Garfield and Kane counties.

Thiriot said the program was heavily concentrated in Washington County, and the Five County board wants the focus to shift to other counties.

Home being built through Mutual Self-Help program in Ivins, Utah, Feb. 14, 2014 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News
Home being built through Mutual Self-Help program in Ivins, Utah, Feb. 14, 2014 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

The Mutual Self-Help Housing program has helped build homes in Ivins and other parts of Washington County, although some projects have proven controversial.

The homes currently being built in Toquerville were originally planned for Dixie Springs subdivision of Hurricane, but residents protested and the group ended up being welcomed by Toquerville.

Debbie Cook, a self-help loan specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, said Self-Help Homes is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization which is completing their grant application. She anticipates a new group will start building this fall.

The Department of Agriculture makes grants for technical assistance to help the families build the homes, Cook said, helping to locate the property, locate a group of families, and provide a construction supervisor to help the families build their homes. The USDA provides the mortgage loans for the properties to the families.

Resources

  • Families interested in applying for the project can contact Karen at Self Help Homes – 801-375-2205
  • For more information and to download application forms, see the Self-Help Homes website
  • USDA Housing and Community Assistance

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