In celebration of USDA’s annual Homeownership Month, I toured a flourishing neighborhood tucked in the woods of Edneyville, North Carolina. Along with me were families who never thought it possible to own a home or have a yard for their children or a garden. Their dreams were realized by building not only their own home, but the homes of their neighbors too! In the process, they also built enduring bonds of a caring community.
This neighborhood is being developed by the private, nonprofit Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) of Hendersonville using Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing program. Since 1971, USDA has helped build more than 50,000 across the nation. Through the Self Help Housing program, homeowners save money and earn “sweat equity” toward their homes by completing 65% of the labor. Ten to 12 families pool their efforts and work a minimum of 40 hours a week working on all the homes — and no one moves into their home until every home is completed. Working together, families pour foundations, frame homes, install electrical wiring, hang doors and windows, and lay tile and paint. Their sweat equity qualifies as their down payment. Once completed, USDA Rural Development provides the families with mortgages through the Single Family Housing Direct Loan Program.
Homeownership is a pillar of the American dream and is the foundation for community and economic development. Participants in Rural Development’s Housing Programs further their education, volunteer in the community, support local businesses. It was a privilege to visit their carefully crafted homes and celebrate their hard earned accomplishments.
After the home tour, I saw a very demonstrable way self-help homeowners keep giving back to the community. The Housing Assistance Bear, one of the 20 bears in the 2014 Bearfootin’ Bears Display, is part of the annual Public Art Walk fundraiser for local nonprofit organizations. A former Self-Help program participant designed and painted the handsome bear, in appreciation for realizing his dream of homeownership.