-by Josephine Zimmerman – Daily Herald
PAYSON – “It’s a barnraising” atmosphere when six families gather in Payson to help build the homes they will soon be occupying. The six families are participating in the Mutual Self-Help Housing program. The program enables them to contribute 65 percent of the labor costs in order to get into homes of their own at a lower price. It means they all work together on the six homes under construction. “It’s fantastic,” Jared Ruiz said. “We are so lucky we found it. We have been renting for six years, and my pay hasn’t gone up, so I thought it could never happen. I wish everybody in our circumstances could be in it.” The Orem resident and his wife, Melissa, have three young daughters and would never be able to have a home of their own if not for the housing program, he said. Ruiz and his wife have a regular schedule of work at the Payson site–Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m. — after he finishes work at his regular job. On Saturday, they are on the job at 7 a.m. and work until 2 p.m. Brad Bishop, executive director of the Rural Housing Development Corp., a non-profit corporation recently organized by the Utah County Housing Authority, said most of the mortgage money for the homes is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Association. The homes the six families are helping build are appraised at $135,000, but they will be getting into the homes for $110,000 because of the “sweat equity” they are providing with their own hands. Each family is required to contribute 30 hours of labor per week. A knowledge of construction is not necessary because trained supervisors are on hand. Fremont Woodward, construction supervisor, said all of the homes are located in the Dry Creek Subdivision in south Payson. All are being built simultaneously. When they are finished, families will complete the loan process and move in. The building process is expected to take about nine months. The program will be expanding in the future to build 16 more homes. Since the program is designed for rural housing projects currently planned will all be in the Payson-Santaquin area. The participating familie3s can make the final lot selection themselves. Woodward contracts out the excavation, concrete work, plumbing, electrical work and other jobs requiring professional skills. The prospective homeowners will be tarring the concrete, helping frame the house, installing insulation, doing finish work, roofing and painting. He said each family has been able to choose one of several house plans available. All of the houses have three or four bedrooms. When completed, each house will be fully equipped with appliances and will be landscaped. The families may work during the week, but they all gather Saturday morning to receive work assignments. “Last Saturday, I worked 13 1/2 hours. The time went so quickly I wondered where the light went,” said the soon-to-be-homeowner Ruiz. Bishop said he received a grant of $10,000 per house from the Housing Assistance Council, a part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Part of this money was used to help “buy down” the cost of the lots, he said. Financial assistance has also been available through HOME, provided by the Utah Valley Consortium of Cities and County, which received federal money. Each family will have a mortgage through the USDA Rural Development Agency. To qualify for the program, each family had to be at or below 80 percent of the area median income. The maximum allowable income depends on the family size. Bishop pointed out that the program allows families to learn skills that they will find useful in the future, and they can also attend workshops on budgeting, finance and home ownership skills. No down payment is required, since the labor the participants contribute is considered the down payment. Gene Carly, director of the Utah County Housing Authority, said the average price of a home in Utah County was $145,000, and noted that Utah is the 24th least affordable housing area in the nation. “This is a way of getting lower-income families into homes of their own,” he said. Participants are selected from a pool of families who participate in seminars and meetings to help families qualify for the loans. Denise McCarty, of Payson, is the only single parent in the program. She is the mother of four children, the oldest of whom are 17 and 19 and can help with the work. She also has a schedule where she goes to the construction site two days a week after she gets off her regular job. She then joins the other six families on Saturday. “It’s great,” McCarty said. “It is also great for my children. They are helping. My father, too, comes and helps.” McCarty said this is the only way she could get a home for herself and her children.