Home economics

Treva Williams, a local single mother with three children, never thought she would be able to own a home. Now she is looking forward to moving into one, thanks to the Mountain Housing Opportunities Self-Help Homeownership program, whose participants grab hammers and nails to help build their own homes. “I’m just glad I was able to have this opportunity to make a better life for my kids,” says Williams. “As a parent, you always want to do more for your children and I’m glad I’m able to do so. To me it’s the investment for my family,” she says.

Only five to eight families are chosen at a time to take part in the program, says Katie Anne Towner, the self-help specialist for MHO who oversees the program. Working as a group, families spend 20 hours per week for up to a year building their homes as well as others in the group. At the end of the yearlong building cycle, the next wave of participants begins.

So far, 20 homes have been built in Buncombe County through the program, which is currently accepting applicants to begin building a new set of homes later this summer.

Applicants must make less than 80 percent of the median in Buncombe County — $44,000 a year for a family of four, Towner explains.  A “reasonable” credit history is also required, paired with at least one year of stable income. Participants cannot already own a home, she says.

Typically, there’s no down payment; subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program relies on participants’ “sweat equity” instead. The alternative makes the homes an affordable option for low-income county residents, and also offers a reduced interest rates, Towner explains. With the USDA funding the homes, Towner says the homes may not have otherwise been built.

“The fact that the USDA finances 100 percent, that’s helpful,” says Towner. “Closing costs are lumped into the loan. It’s one of the only ways that I know of that people can become homeowners without the [up-front] costs. We work really closely to help people get on track and get into a position where they lower their debt,” she says.

A big benefit for participants, Towner adds, are “the homeowner skills that you get. You learn how to build and how to fix.” Since the homeowners build their homes, they get an idea of how to fix problems that may arise. “Now . . . if anything goes wrong with my home, I’ll kind of know what’s going on,” says Williams.

The local economy also benefits, says Towner. Local subcontractors help build the homes, which in turn supports local jobs.

Families get to pick from a selection of floor plans designed to meet their budget and family size. Because the USDA is funding the program, the homes can only be built in what are considered to be rural areas but with schools and jobs not very far away. For example, North Buncombe High School is located in Weaverville, where one of the communities is located.

Three years ago, Norman Douglas Bailey III signed up after reading about the program in his wife’s work newsletter. The couple currently lives in the Self-Help Homeownership development in Black Mountain. He says, “For anybody that’s not actually wanting a hand out, just a hand up to get your foot in the door for a lifelong investment, it’s a perfect program.”

For more information on the Self-Help Homeownership program, or to apply, visit http://www.mtnhousing.org/services/ownership/self_help.php or www.mtnhousing.org.

— Brandy Carl is an Xpress news intern and a senior at Western Carolina University. She can be reached at brandy@mountainx.com or 251-1333, ext. 128.

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