Where: Yakima, Washington

Problem: Low- and very low-income families lack homeownership opportunities

Solution: Rural Community Assistance Corporation’s (RCAC) staff provides technical assistance to Catholic Charities Housing Services to implement its self-help housing program

Catholic Charities Housing Services (CCHS), Yakima, provides housing, health and family services in central Washington. CCHS operates one of its housing services under a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Mutual Self-Help Housing Program Section 523 grant.

In the self-help housing program, low-income borrowers work together under the guidance of a nonprofit public housing entity (self-help grantee) to build each other’s homes. With a construction supervisor on site, these building groups perform at least 65 percent of the construction work required (known as “sweat equity”) to build their homes. The sweat equity enables them to qualify for an affordable mortgage through the USDA Section 502 loan program.

RCAC staff worked with Catholic Charities to successfully apply for the Section 523 grant and to implement the self-help housing program. RCAC staff have developed tools to help Catholic Charities manage its self-help program and provide guidance during the construction and management for each self-help housing neighborhood. RCAC also provided training to Catholic Charities to become a qualified employer to package Section 502 loans, which RCAC reviews and then submits to USDA.

Catholic Charities has constructed 53 self-help homes with RCAC’s assistance. According to the organization’s records, those homes represent 87,250 hours of sweat equity. Three homeowners opened their own businesses after achieving homeownership. And 15 percent of the homebuyers were considered “homeless” prior to participating in the program.

The next neighborhoods will be constructed in Sunnyside, a rural community with a $37,975 median household income (MHI), and approximately 83 percent are Hispanic or Latino; and Prosser, with a $53,268 MHI, and 36.4 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

“The support from RCAC staff has been instrumental in our efforts to provide permanent affordable housing throughout central Washington. The RCAC team values our mission to serve those in need and provides vital education, resources and advice on our Section 523 USDA grant and building activities. With their support we have been successfully awarded three 523 USDA Mutual Self-Help Technical Assistance grants. Under these grants we will further our reach into the community, building a total of 68 self-help homes.” said Emily Freeborn, single family housing program manager. “The homes will provide $1,700,000 in equity to very low and low-income home buyers. It is this continued asset building that will help to launch low income home buyers out of poverty. Our home buyers have a graduation rate that is 3 percent higher than local numbers and many are pursuing secondary education for the first time in generations. We look to RCAC for their solid support and continued partnership into the future.”