By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
For many low-income families, the dream of home ownership may seem out of reach. The people at District IV Human Resources Development Council are looking at ways to change that.
HRDC is studying the possibility of bringing the USDA Rural Development Self-Help Housing program to Havre. The program provides federal loans and expert training to help groups of five to 10 families build their own homes. The participants work together to construct a neighborhood to call their own.
Since its inception in 1971, the federal program has helped more than 32,000 families build their own homes, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
Bridget Schermele, area director for the Rural Development office in Great Falls, said the program is responsible for six ongoing or completed projects in Montana, including one that is getting under way outside of Great Falls.
HRDC project coordinator Diane Savasten Getten said Havre needs an influx of affordable housing.
"Havre's housing stock is very old," Savasten Getten said. "The last affordable housing was built between 1955 and 1975."
She said HRDC is working to find an area where the project could be constructed and is looking for people who are interested in and would qualify for the program. Savasten Getten has been giving presentations at local organizations over the past few weeks and has received positive feedback so far, she said.
Families participating in the program work between 30 and 35 hours a week to build each of the homes together, said Schermele. No one moves into the home until each one in the neighborhood is completed.
"What this allows the family to do is build their own home and come up with 'sweat equity,'" Schermele said. "When all is said and done, the homeowner takes out a loan for how much the house costs without having to pay for all of the labor."
The program is strictly for "low- and very low- income families," she said. People qualify for the program through income and credit checks, and the money is loaned through USDA Rural Development, Schermele said.
"The interest is based on people's incomes and what they're able to pay," Savasten Getten said.
To qualify, applicants must not own a home, must meet loan qualifications and earn at or below 80 percent of the median income limit, according to Rural Development.
The neighborhood generally takes a minimum of six months to complete, Schermele said. The house designs are limited to a few basic designs, with simple two- or three-bedroom, single-bath floor plans, which makes them easier to build, she said.
USDA Rural Development money is used to pay for a professional construction supervisor to work on the project full time. The supervisor trains the participating families on construction techniques, orders materials and supplies, and ensures the homes are constructed according to building codes.
"We provide a professional on the job scene to provide that guidance," Schermele said.
While the participants will be responsible for the majority of the work, plumbers and electricians will be brought on site to handle those areas of construction, she said.
The foundation work is all completed at once, Schermele said, and then work will continue in phases until the homes are completed. The families may concentrate on two or three homes at a time, working to get them framed and roofed before moving on to the next few homes.
Savasten Getten said she is looking for people in Havre who would like to participate in the project. Residents who are interested or would like more information can contact HRDC at 265-6743.