Suzanne AnardeMutual Self-Help Housing (MSH) is my favorite housing program … from the first time I heard about it in the early 90s, it fascinated me! MSH doesn’t just build community, neighborhoods and quality, affordable homes, it also builds confidence and stability for homeowners/builders. As a former MSH grantee in rural southeastern Colorado, it did not surprise me that in this COVID environment the families and grantees on the ground continue to work through the challenges during this time, this moment.

When I was with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), I loved talking about MSH up on the Hill in D.C., with funders and my urban counterparts. Their first comment would be … “Oh! You mean like Habitat.” I would take a deep breath and say, “No … Habitat is a great program, but Mutual Self-Help is unique to rural America.” Groups of families, working together in a neighborhood, over and above their usual work schedule for 12 to 14 months, doing 65 percent of the work … is a concept that is hard to grasp for many people, particularly if their culture is not rural.

While the program in itself is monumental, the program’s true impact is seen in the residents and children of MSH builders. I had the honor of meeting the matriarch of one of the first families in the MSH program in California’s Central Valley. Her pride for this accomplishment was evident, some 50 years later. But even more apparent was her belief that this experience had shaped her life, and the life of her family, in tremendous ways.

As we move through this moment in our country, we acknowledge that financial and housing stability, equity and inclusion are critical components for all. Mutual Self-Help Housing epitomizes all of those elements and is an illustration of where rural America gets it right. During National Homeownership Month, let’s take this opportunity to stop and celebrate all of the families, communities and MSH grantee organizations for their commitment, grit and determination in the entire process leading to homeownership. At the end of the day, home is where we heal—our hearts, our bodies and our souls.