-by Donna Milakovic – Daily Herald
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Seven Saratoga Springs families moved into their brand new homes in December, as seven other families in Eagle Mountain get ready to start building theirs. All 14 families have one thing in common — they’re building their homes in cooperation with a United States Department of Agriculture program called the Mutual Self-Help Program. In this program, seven to 10 families get together and build each other’s homes. All participants are first-time homeowners who have low or very-low incomes and meet other financial requirements. And none of the families may move into their homes until all the other homes in the group are complete. Families participating in the program do at least 65 percent of the work, under the direction of a construction supervisor. Most homes built through the program are finished in 10 to 12 months. The Saratoga Springs homes have taken more than a year to finish, though. “Sometimes it has been really hard,” said Paul Neil Jr., one of the participants in Saratoga Springs. “Then at other times you just get along really well. My home went up last but it is nice, like a Christmas present, and I will soon live close to where I work.” Neil found out about the program from his mother in Lehi and said that when things got rough on the longer-than-anticipated project, “you just keep plugging away at it and do what you can..” In Eagle Mountain, the families waiting to build in Kiowa Valley subdivision are just beginning the process and hope to have their homes completed by fall, or sooner. Peter Thorpe, one of the Eagle Mountain participants, found out about the program from a former neighbor in Provo who participated in it. “We are hoping to finish by the end of August,” he said. Thorpe attended an open house of the Saratoga Springs homes and said he was excited to see what his home will be like. “The homes were really nice and there was a lot of good support from the city,” he said. Thorpe and his wife, Kate, will build a 2,200-square-foot home for themselves, with 1,700 square feet of finished space. He said it will look like other homes in the neighborhood that developers are constructing. “It is a great opportunity for us and as a first-time home buyer helped us get into a good neighborhood. It is a great program,” Thorpe said. Brad Bishop, executive director of Rural Housing Development Corporation for Utah County said, “These families get a great home but the benefits are way beyond the home. It is a long 10 months and they develop relationships. They will be lifelong friends.” Many of the participants have little or no experience in constructing a home so the program allows for professional subcontractors to do the concrete, electrical work and plumbing. All the framing and landscaping and finish work is done by the families under a contractor’s supervision. Bishop said the new homeowners have approximately $25,000 equity in their new homes because they have done most of the work.