Area Agency Helps Families Come Home

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Southwest Times Record (Arkansas; IDAs)

By:  Pam Cloud

September 10, 2012


Thirty-three thousand dollars.

That's a pretty hefty sum of money -- one that would make a decent down payment on a nice home.

And that's the amount of money the average renter throws away over a five-year period renting a house or apartment for $550 per month.

Home ownership can be achieved, even if a limited income seems to be what's holding someone back.


Through the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program of the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council, two more families were able to relax in their own homes -- homes they designed and customized -- last week after pouring hours of their own "sweat equity" into the four-month construction.

Briana Shaw and her son, along with Robyn Gregory and her two children, now each have a house to come home to in Alma, moving in the last week of August.

And coming home is exactly what Shaw has liked most about her new home.

"It's a place to call home," said Shaw as she watched her 2-year-old son, Kain, play on the wood floors. "Knowing this is ours and knowing Kain can go to school here in Alma. My son can actually play in a yard."

As a single mother, Shaw's limited income would never have allowed her to buy and build a home without the assistance of the CS-CDC's housing program, which has provided 54 homes in rural Crawford and Sebastian counties over the last seven years, according to Linda Gabriel, community outreach coordinator for the nonprofit.

"Her house payment for a three-bedroom, two-bath home is less than her rent was for a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment," Gabriel said. "Plus the fact that she already has $17,000 in equity in this home."

That equity comes in the form of "sweat equity," with the homeowners becoming involved in the construction.

"They were here every day or every other day working, so we didn't have to pay a sub-contractor to do that," Gabriel explained of the Gregorys and the Shaws, which included Briana's father, Keith Shaw of Van Buren. "They laid the floor; they did yard work and picked up shingles. The sweat equity counts as a down payment."

Gabriel said the energy-efficient homes are made possible through a grant from U.S.D.A. Rural Development, which extends the mortgage through very favorable rates.

"Briana didn't have to come up with a down payment or closing costs," Gabriel explained. "Every dollar she saved toward the house, we matched it with $3,000 up to $4,000. She earned that by taking eight hours of a financial fitness class."

Shaw got to select her own property in Crawford or Sebastian counties (the cities of Fort Smith, Van Buren and Barling are excluded from the program), select her own floor plan, select paint colors, choose light fixtures, doors, door handles and finishes.

"It's everything I wanted within my income limit," Shaw said of her 1,300-square-foot home.

And because every house is customized to each homeowner, no two look the same.

"You can't look at the house and say it's a Mutual Self-Help house; they're all different," Gabriel added.

Shaw changed the configuration of the peninsula counter in the kitchen, added a pantry and an extra window in the living room and opted for a two-car garage and wood floors throughout the home. Stainless-steel appliances help complete the kitchen. She has cucumber green paint on the walls in the kitchen, a calming light taupe in the living room and halls, a soothing gray in her master bedroom, a purple hue in her master bathroom and bright red in Kain's "Cars"-themed bedroom.

"It's personalized and customized," Gabriel said.

The CS-CDC, which is the Community Action agency for this area, extends multiple programs to help individuals and families of modest means become more financially self-reliant, according to Gabriel. Other programs include homebuyer education, down-payment assistance, credit repair, foreclosure counseling, weatherization and other homeownership programs. They also have Individual Development Accounts to help with down payments, college tuition and small business start-ups. For information, call CS-CDC at 785-2303 in Fort Smith or 262-6994 in Van Buren.

The housing program has very reasonable income limits, making it available to many people. The 2012 income limit for a single person living alone is $27,100, and for a household of two, the limit is $31,000.

"Not enough people are taking advantage of the program," Gabriel said. "It's ridiculous to pay so much in rent. Utilities are so high on rental units because they're not insulated well."

But Briana and her father know exactly how much insulation was installed and where the electrical lines are behind the walls, because they were there when the walls went up.

Keith Shaw is very excited for his daughter and grandson.

"I'm really impressed just with her getting a house, especially already having that much in equity," Keith Shaw said, adding that after 10 years in his own home, he had only accumulated $2,500 in equity. "That just floored me."

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This page contains a single entry by CFED published on September 11, 2012 8:45 PM.

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