June 11, 2013

Self-help housing Program helps get east Idahoans into own homes

Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com - On May 29, Jennifer Richards, center, stands with her two children, Shalequa and Austyn, in front of the house they built through the Mutual Self Help Housing Project in Rigby.By SAMUEL HOWARD


After 14 months of construction, Jennifer Richards was exhausted but never more proud.

The single mom of two had bounced between renting an apartment and living with extended family, but she always dreamed of giving her children a house to call their own.

Richards remembers her family's happiness in October 2010 when they moved into the house south of Rigby.

"It was very exciting for my kids and me," Richards said. "When we moved in, I remember my daughter telling me, 'You've given me more than any two parents ever could've given me.'"

Since 1998, the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership has helped Richards and 171 other low-income eastern Idaho families through its Mutual Self Help Housing Project.

There are similar housing projects throughout the country, all funded by loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Program.

Housing specialist Peggy Yarbor said EICAP already has received 100 applications in advance of the July 15 deadline for this year's construction campaign at Sweet Country Estates.

Each of the nine families selected for the program will help build their home without putting any money down on a 33-year mortgage.

Participants are chosen on their credit, job history and past bill payments, Yarbor said. Those selected will take construction classes and courses about home ownership. They also must invest 30 hours of construction work in their homes each week.

The skills learned by families during the construction translate to money saved in the future, project foreman Robert Howe said.

"They probably do 70 percent of the work, and I teach them every facet of it," Howe said. "Once they move in, they won't have to call a contractor to fix anything because I teach them how to do it all."

At first, Richards was unsure whether she could handle the construction work. But the labor Richards invested proved to be the most fulfilling part of her experience, giving her confidence she said she wouldn't otherwise have as a single mom.

"The program is a ton of hard work, but in the end you get to look at a home that you own and you personally built," Richards said. "It's great because I can continue to be excited about the program even this long after (building my house)."

The loan's interest rate -- adjusted by income to be between 1 percent and the market value, currently 3.125 percent -- is another reason Richards still gets excited about the program.

"(Paying between $500 and $800 each month) is probably lower than I would pay in rent for a house of this size," Richards said. "Knowing you are going to be able to afford your monthly payments is a big thing for a lot of people."

From the moment the loans are approved to the day they move in, Yarbor said the families work together to ensure each other's success.

That helps unite the neighborhood even before the houses are finished, Richards said.

"You come together as a little neighborhood and everybody knows everybody," Richards said. "It's not like you're moving into a subdivision and not knowing anyone."

Howard, Samuel. "Self-help housing Program helps get east Idahoans into own homes." Post Register 11 June, 2013


Community Action Agencies were established to fight the War on Poverty in 1964. Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership, located at 935 E Lincoln Rd in Idaho Falls serves the nine eastern Idaho counties with services to help low-income individuals become independent and self-sufficient. EICAP is one of over 1,000 Community Action Agencies in the United States that provide services to every county in the nation.