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To build or not to build?

Kenai RurAL CAP 'sweat equity' project faces hurdles

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2007

 

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  Loren Bass, construction supervisor for the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP) program to create a community of owner-built homes, takes a piece of wood from Edwin Engelstad Jr. of Kenai, while working on the roof of a house in Sterling. Photo by Joseph Robertia

Loren Bass, construction supervisor for the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP) program to create a community of owner-built homes, takes a piece of wood from Edwin Engelstad Jr. of Kenai, while working on the roof of a house in Sterling.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Building a home can be a stressful experience that has the future owner often figuratively asking if it'll ever be done, but for several local families involved in a self-help owner-built home program in Kenai and Sterling, this question is a literal one.

"The model and the idea is great, but how it's been going has been frustrating," said Lance Hunt of Soldotna, referring to the second phase of a Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP) program to create a community of owner-built homes.

 

Loren Bass, construction supervisor for the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP) program to create a community of owner-built homes, takes a piece of wood from Edwin Engelstad Jr. of Kenai, while working on the roof of a house in Sterling.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Hunt, a full-time student and employee at Kenai Peninsula College, and his wife, Lisa, a massage therapist, and their three month old son, Gavin, are just one family of eight attempting to build homes in Kenai, but the project is in danger of being cancelled unless a full contingent of 10 families can be found.

"They've told us we can't go further until we have the full 10, and if we can't get 10 by Dec.1 they'll pull the plug and all we've put in to this will be for nothing," Hunt said.

Under RurAL CAP's Housing and Planning Division, low-income families work to obtain housing through "sweat equity," rather than by a down payment, which means they perform 65 percent of the labor and construction on the homes a commitment of roughly 30 hours per week.

"No one is asking for handouts. All the families in this program are devoted to working those 30 hours in addition to their other responsibilities," Hunt said.

Through USDA Rural Development and RurAL CAP, the program also allows participants to take advantage of low-interest loans, such as 1 percent for a 38-year term in some cases. The homes approved as structurally sound by the USDA Rural Development are five-star energy rated, single-family dwellings that typically have three to four bedrooms, two baths and two-car garages, and are built on one-acre lots in sunny area to further minimize heating and other utility bills.

In the fall of 2005, Rural CAP's first self-help housing program got under way along Lou Morgan Road, off of Scout Lake Loop Road in Sterling.

"A group of eight families began working together to build their own homes," said Donna Shassetz, self-help housing coordinator for RurAL CAP's Rural Housing and Planning Division.

Many homes in this project are almost finished and the project is expected to be entirely complete by the end of the year, even though two families have pulled out of the program, she added.

The Kenai program, located off of Kalifornsky Beach Road roughly two miles from Spenard Builder's Supply, has not gone as well, according to Shassetz. Even more families pulled out of a 10-house project earlier in the planning process, which has now compromised the start of construction for the families remaining in the program.

"We need five families for the project in Kenai. If we don't get them, those in the program may lose their homes, and if we don't make this work the program may not continue on the Kenai," she said.

This is worrisome news to the Hunt family.

"I really don't know what we'll do if this doesn't go through. We'll be stuck," said Hunt.

In an effort to prevent that possibility and keep the Kenai program alive, five families are being sought for the project. Two families are also still sought for the Sterling project. Eligible participants should have a dependable source of sufficient income not to exceed a maximum annual gross of $60,000 for a household of four or $42,000 for a single-person household to support a house payment estimated between $550 and $750, not including taxes and insurance. Payments are dependent on the house design chosen and the qualifying interest rate and loan.

To learn more or to apply for the self-help housing program, contact Donna Shassetz at (907) 865-7369.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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