A Fresh Beginning

New Roberts apartments excite low-income families

By Sven Berg
Photo by Monte LaOrange
Post Register
Printed on Thursday, July 16, 2009

ROBERTS -- Loud machines, huge concrete formations, workers in orange vests, even portable bathrooms -- the By Monte LaOrangeconstruction site of a new apartment complex here has everything you'd expect. The fact that it's going up in Roberts -- population 647 -- seems only slightly out-of-the-ordinary.

But for dozens of low-income families who may live in the apartments someday, there's nothing ordinary about them.

Since early June, when builders broke ground on the project, there's been a surge of excitement among some low-income families who work at nearby farms or potato-processing plants, said Joel Gramirez, an outreach coordinator for the Community Family Clinic in Idaho Falls.

"This actually has been something that some folks in the area are waiting to happen," Gramirez said. "They are excited about it."

For 23 families, many of whom live in mobile homes nearly 50 years old and devoid of all but the most basic insulation, the excitement is understandable, Gramirez said.

Instead of shivering through winters, they'll enjoy the kind of living conditions most of us take for granted.

"There's quite a bit of people that live in these small, not really suitable mobile homes, so the winter is really hard on them," Gramirez said.

The apartments are expected to be completed sometime in the spring.

Mostly two- and three-bedroom units, they'll be rented to low-income workers for whom agricultural work makes up at least $7,300 of their annual income, said Russ Spain, executive director of the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership, which put together funding for the apartments.

Spain estimated the total cost of building the Lakeview Family Apartments at $2.5 million to $3 million. Loans from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay about $1.4 million. A USDA grant will pay the rest.

Rent for Lakeview tenants will be based on income.

"It could be anywhere from zero to nearly all of the market rent for Roberts," Spain said.

The Lakeview apartments are just one low-income housing option coming to Roberts. Late this year or early next, EICAP will open lots for homes that low-income families can buy with loans offered by the USDA.

To qualify for a loan, candidates must make no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $44,100 for a family of four. The loan requires no down payment, Spain said, because owners are required to build the house -- except for the foundation, electrical work, plumbing and ventilation. They have to work at least 30 hours per week on the house until it's complete.

Finished to specifications, Spain said, the homes are typically appraised at about $180,000, with loans of about $100,000 outstanding on them.

"So they've got equity as soon as they move in," Spain said. "The fact that they have to put in 30 hours a week working on the house -- that is their down payment."

EICAP began the home ownership program, known as the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, in the late 1990s, Spain said. It has led to the construction of about 130 homes in the area. Besides administrative costs incurred in putting housing developments together, the program doesn't cost EICAP anything, Spain said.

Unlike the Lakeview apartments, owners of homes in the self-help program aren't required to work in agriculture.

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Did you know?

To learn more about low-income housing opportunities in Roberts or elsewhere in eastern Idaho, call the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership at 522-5370.