Program helps Sterling residents begin building their own homes

Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The fireweed has already gone to seed in Sterling where families broke ground Monday for eight single-family, owner-built houses, which will start going up when Alaska’s seasonal indicator weed blooms again next summer.

Considered a test of the Rural Alaska Community Action Program Inc. (RurAL CAP) “Self-Help Owner-Built Homes” project, the Sterling homes are to be built on one-acre lots at the intersection of Scout Lake Loop and Lou Morgan roads, according to RurAL CAP public information specialist Clara Hughes.

Eight low-income families, who met specific eligibility requirements, were selected for the project and will now help build their own homes according to their individual needs and likes.

The families select such things as the carpeting, the siding and the house plan, according to Hughes.

The new homeowners might have a need for a single-level, ranch-style house because a family member is handicapped or because older family members prefer not having stairs to climb.

Two-story floor plans also are available.

Criteria that establish the families as low income are determined in various geographic areas around the country by the U. S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

“We recruit families who might be interested in owning their own homes,” Hughes said.

Financing is made available with no down payment and low interest rates, Hughes said. Monthly house payments will average $1,200.

An interim loan to purchase the Sterling property came from the Rural Local Initiative Support Corporation, according to Mitzi Barker, director of rural housing and planning for RurAL CAP.

Individuals then applied for USDA 502 Program home loans, which can have interest rates as low as 1 percent and can be for as long as 38 years, Barker said.

Loan rates and terms are determined by USDA on a sliding scale according to individuals’ finances.

The families’ labor, in the form of “sweat equity,” helps keep building costs down.

Professional tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters direct the actual building of the homes and family members provide the majority of the labor.

RurAL CAP deputy director Shauna Hegna said the agency works “very hard to hire locally,” though she did not know specifically which contractors will be doing the construction in Sterling.

Building site preparation is being done this fall, and RurAL CAP expects foundations to go in next spring.

Completion of the homes is slated for spring of 2007.

Hughes said one goal of the project is to have neighbors help build their own neighborhood, and as such, no families are allowed to move in until all eight homes are completed.

Barker said the neighborhood projects are self-governed, and each family agrees to covenants setting up work rules and such prohibitions as not bringing drugs or alcohol to the work sites.

Penalties can be assessed for violations, as severe as removing a family from the neighborhood project and replacing the family with one on the waiting list, Barker said.

She said RurAL CAP has received inquiries from other Kenai Peninsula communities desiring affordable housing, and the agency is currently looking at the Copper River area for its next potential Self-Help Owner-Built Home project.

Barker said the Sterling project has been well received by the Sterling community, particularly the Abundant Life Assembly Church and the Sterling Community Coalition Group.

She said Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Grace Merkes also has been very supportive.

Hughes said five of the eight future Sterling homeowners attended the groundbreaking ceremony on Monday and all eagerly looked forward to being able to have homes of their own.

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