Self-Help Housing participants take a hands-on approach to home ownership

By Lyxan Toledanes / The Daily News

CASTLE ROCK — Like many new homeowners, Tonie Roberts walked around her new home Thursday, excited about the possibilities of the empty space.

In the middle of Roberts’ living room, kitchen cabinets were still in boxes as she prepared to paint her walls. Her floors were bare concrete, and the windows were protected by sheets of plastic.

“I’m very anxious and excited all at the same time,” said Roberts, 37, of Longview. “I want to move in!”

Roberts must wait two more months before she gets to move in furniture — the final stage of her participation in Lower Columbia Community Action Program’s Self-Help Housing program. She’s one of eight CAP-sponsored homeowners preparing to move into the Joann Drive subdivision who have pounded nails, poured foundations, run piping and hung drywall to create their new homes. Construction began in August.

CAP’s Self-Help Housing program allows qualified low-income families to own a first home at an affordable price. In place of making down payments, families provide “sweat equity,” working at least 30 hours a week under the direction of CAP construction supervisors.

Families qualify based on income, family size and credit scores, but CAP officials work up to seven years with families to repair their finances before they start building, said Juanita Burnham, coordinator of CAP’s Self-Help Housing. CAP arranges financing from local institutional lenders.

“We do everything in our power for families to be successful and be successful homeowners,” Burnham said. “We do show them how to help themselves get out of what (debt) they’re in.”

Since 1989, CAP has helped 395 families build their own homes in Cowlitz, Clark and Lewis counties. Only 1 percent of those homes have gone into foreclosure, Burnham said.

Standard home options cost between $153,000 to $167,000, with three or four bedrooms and one or two-and-a-half bathrooms and an attached two-car garage.

Homeowners work with each other and volunteers to build their neighborhood. No construction experience required.

Homes are Energy Star Code compliant and must be built to the exact specifications outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Homeowners have a choice in detailing, from flooring to lighting, to make the homes their own.

Longview resident Sadie Lovett, 25, said renting never allowed her to make her apartments feel like home.

“I like to draw and I like the ability to personalize. I want bright, crazy walls, and you don’t get that in an apartment,” Lovett said. “I’m definitely looking forward to moving in. It’s going to be a home, not just a couple of sticks.”

Lovett shares an apartment with her 2-year-old daughter and boyfriend, Chuck Binion, in Longview’s troubled 33rd Avenue neighborhood. She applied to the CAP program in hopes of moving to a safer neighborhood.

“I just wanted to get out,” Lovett said.

Amy Bremer, 23, of Kelso just started the foundation for her home. She dreamed of settling down in Castle Rock with her husband, Kris Bremer, and their 3-year-old daughter.

The Bremers previously paid $800 to $900 a month renting before Amy Bremer’s relatives suggested they invest in a home. The couple had good credit and was able to start their home after another family dropped out of the program.

“We’re trying to get ahead as we’re young,” Bremer said. “My daughter’s going to preschool here. We’re planning on moving here and getting situated. Everything has been fitting together.”

Creating that sense of ownership is what drives the homeowners to dedicate free time to construction, Burnham said.

“They’re not just building a community,” Burnham said. “They’re building friendships and foundations for their neighborhood.”

Roberts, who didn’t have any building experience, said she spends three days a week working on her home, juggling that effort with her full-time job as lead clerk at Fred Meyer and being a mother to four teens. Roberts even postponed her wedding to Josh Howe to next summer so she could devote more time to building.

“This took over my life,” Roberts joked, adding she loved seeing her four-bedroom home come together. “It’s a brand new home, and it’s mine. This is so rewarding.”



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