Self-Help Housing builds family homes, self-respect

By Cheryl Mecham, Uintah Basin Standard staff writer

Reprinted with permission from Uintah Basin Standard online

September 2010

A friend told Rebecca Lamb that a new group of homes would be going up in Pole Line Estates, but, these weren’t the run of the mill speculative houses, or custom cottages that developers erect. These homes were part of the Mutual Self-Help Housing program, partially built by the owners.

Lamb said she looked through the application and thought, “I’ll try it.” Now she and her three children will be moving out of a cramped apartment into a spacious three bedroom home that they can call their own.

“I had no other way of getting a home,” Lamb said. “I didn’t think that me and the kids would ever have anything like this.”

It all happened because Lamb looked through a pre-application form through Uintah Basin Association of Governments Self-Help Housing program. She learned she was within income guidelines and could qualify. Then she read through the literature explaining how the program operated and what would be expected of her.

Each applicant for this series of houses would need to be approved for a mortgage/construction loan of $176,000. Once construction began they were required to work 30 hours per week on home construction under the supervisor of a construction manager, and be willing to work to mutually complete all the homes in the group.

Josie and Gabriela Tapia cut siding for their daughter's house.

Josie and Gabriela Tapia cut siding for their daughter's house.

The work would go on until all homes were complete.

Lamb was one of 10 families who signed up for the program. Out of the 10 participants in the Roosevelt group, the majority were single mothers with children.

Lamb’s parents, Leonard and Kathy Washburn, came to help as often as their schedules allowed. Her sister, friends, and boyfriend also worked as concrete was poured, walls were framed, sheeting and shingles made up the roof, and drywall was hung and mudded.

Lamb said she learned how to “run electrical and install boxes for the lights. We even had to tar the basement,” she said. “I helped with the painting and a lot of different things.”

Everything in Lamb’s home is finished, but there’s a bit of work that needs to be done on a couple of homes before the whole group can hang up their work gloves and put their tools away. Once the last piece of siding is hung and the last light fixture installed, individual participants will attend their final closing and 24 hours later, move in.

An open-house showcasing four of the completed homes was held on last Monday in celebration of National Home Ownership Month. The celebration was organized by Uintah Basin Association of Governments senior housing coordinator Joan Mortensen in conjunction with USDA — the federal agency that provides grants to fund the program.

“They are so excited at this point,” Mortensen said. “I set up a Facebook page where everyone could post photos and make daily entries. It’s been a good way for everyone to check in with each other. Even old members from previous (self-help housing) groups have posted comments saying it’s hard work but it’s worth it.”

The sweat equity each applicant puts into the project becomes their down payment. And the hours add up. It’s estimated that well over 1,000 hours are tallied up by the end of the construction year. Depending on the market, those hours will account for at least $5,000 as a down payment.

Mortensen said that UBAOG will soon start a new Mutual Self-Help Housing group in Vernal and have already had four families apply. They are looking for six more families to join in. The homes will be built at 4100 S. Vernal Avenue. When the Vernal group completes their homes, Mortensen said, the program will have promoted the completion of 91 homes in Duchesne and Uintah counties.

Katrina Bodkin, Self Help/Housing and Replacement coordinator for UBAOG, said the goal of the program is to provide, “affordable, modest homes both in size and in cost.”

“We want them to be appealing,” Bodkin said. 

For further information about Mutual Self-Help Housing program go here:


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