TOQUERVILLE — Construction hasn’t started yet, but the children of nine families who will soon have a new home couldn’t wait to play in the new Peachtree Circle in Toquerville, the site of a group of new residences to be built with a combination of sweat equity and teamwork.
During a groundbreaking ceremony held May 29, several of the group’s children were already taking advantage of the fresh pavement with bicycles and scooters, Self-Help Homes spokesperson Julie Lindquist said in a press release.
The families – 18 children and 16 adults – are part of the Mutual Self-Help Housing program, administered in Washington County by the nonprofit Self-Help Homes.
“We are just really grateful for this opportunity,” program participant Aubrey Garrett said at the groundbreaking. “It was definitely an emotional roller coaster getting into the group, but we are beyond blessed.”
The sweat-equity homeownership program offers low interest rates and low entry costs in exchange for hundreds of hours of hard work, giving families with moderate incomes a chance to own a home of their own. Families must contribute at least 35 hours each week for 8-10 months, working as a team to complete 70% of the labor on all nine homes.
Bart Higbee and his wife Ashley are excited to participate in the program. According to the press release, Bart Higbee’s ancestors were originally from Toquerville and helped build the historic winery, so returning to the town holds special meaning for him. Coming from a pioneer and ranching background, he says he is excited to be part of an old-fashioned group effort to build his home and the homes of his neighbors.
“We’re actually really grateful for this program and the opportunity it gives us,” Bart Higbee said at the groundbreaking. “Being able to build our own home means a lot.”
To participate, families must have good credit and a stable income and be willing to work hard, Lindquist said.
“This is such a great program,” she said. “It is so hard for regular working people to get into a home these days, with the cost of houses getting higher and higher. It’s really a great opportunity for our families.”
The program’s low interest rates, $500 down payment, no out-of-pocket closing costs and 33-year mortgages make homeownership a possibility for many families who would otherwise be squeezed out of Washington County’s increasingly expensive housing market, Lindquist said.
“With the USDA’s low interest rates, these mortgages are less than a comparable rental house, if you can even find a rental. And they are brand-new, attractive, energy-efficient homes.”
No construction experience is required to participate in the program, Lindquist said. Self-Help Homes construction managers will teach and guide the families through every stage of construction.
“But by the time they’re finished, they have the knowledge and experience to fix anything that breaks, which is a huge advantage for a homeowner,” she said.
Program participants average around 1,500 hours of the labor on their houses over 8-10 months. Subcontractors are hired for the concrete work, plumbing, electrical – any work that requires a license.
The nine new homes are part of the 16-lot Ash Creek Overlook development by Self-Help Homes. The project includes Peachtree Circle and some adjacent lots on Westfield Road. Footings and plumbing work is already underway on some lots, and the families will start framing the homes within the next few weeks.
The Mutual Self-Help Housing Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency, which provides low-interest mortgages. In Washington County, the program has been administered by Self-Help Homes for the past few years. Before that, more than 120 homes were built in the county through the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program.
Self-Help Homes, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization based in Provo, took over management of the program in Washington County in 2015. The organization has already helped 13 families build homes in Washington County. Statewide, Self-Help Homes has built about 500 homes and currently has several projects underway in Utah and Wasatch counties.