PORT ORCHARD — For the 10 families moving into brand-new homes at the Prosperity Place housing development, becoming homeowners was preceded by more than a year of vivid memories of shared experiences.
Experiences such as cold winter winds. Dreary wet weather while outdoors. Missed family events. And lots of sore muscles and dinged fingers, courtesy of misplaced hammer strikes.
But these new homeowners say the sacrifices are simply worthwhile new pages to their life stories, not the least being able to proudly say they built their new domicile through the sweat of their own labor.
At a recent celebration commemorating move-in day at the Housing Kitsap single-family development on Southeast Horstman Road, some of the 10 new owners shared poignant stories of their 1,200 to 1,500 hours of labor spent building a new home from the ground up. Apart from the wood, nails and concrete structures they ended up creating, the new residents also unexpectedly created tight bonds with each other — their neighbors, their community.
Rhonda Carbone, who is an administrative assistant at Kitsap Recovery Center, is one of those new homeowners and neighbors. A single mother, she applied to participate in Housing Kitsap’s Mutual Self-Help Housing program made possible with funding through the federal U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development assistance grant program.
After spending up to 35 hours each week, much of it outdoors nailing studs, selecting flooring, cabinets and countertops, and doing interior finish work, Carbone said the time was as much a bonding experience as it was a learning exercise in the building trades.
“All that I remember is that there was a lot of hard work,” the Bremerton-turned-Port Orchard resident said. “After 54 weeks spent constructing a house, you learn to work together. And, you get to know your neighbors.”
A new neighbor of hers, Denise, said the effort “has been an amazing experience for all of us. We’ve grown so much over the year of building.”
Novice construction workers like Rhonda and Denise aren’t thrown into the process without a little help, though. Three Housing Kitsap site supervisors are there to organize and assist them throughout their time at the worksite.
“We’ve come out here as single parents, full-time working single people and families, just excited to build a home for our families,” Denise said. “None of us could [otherwise] own homes in this area with the rising cost of housing.”
Carbone and other new owners qualified for the income-restricted home-ownership program through Housing Kitsap and USDA, which doesn’t require a down payment — the labor that prospective owners provide is considered to be their down payment. Mortgage loan payments are based on their household income only and terms are either for 33 or 38 years.
“The most attractive part of the program is that the mortgage will be based on my income,” she said. “Looking for an apartment or a house to rent [with her income] was just comical. A single mother can’t afford something like that.”
The new owner has two children, 19 and 20, who she says have moved away from home and are attending college. But, for at least a few months each year, they will spend time at their mom’s new home at Prosperity Place.
Her two-story, 1.404-square-foot home is simple but spacious — it has four bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms and a two-car garage. The living room, kitchen and hallways feature stylish wood-laminate flooring. And the bedrooms are carpeted upstairs.
Andy Rogers, who owns the home on Lot 10, is an electrician at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He and Vanessa, who also volunteered labor hours, will share the residence that’s now move-in ready.
“The last couple of weeks have been very hard. Vanessa and I have put in over 120 hours to put the house in order for the inspection walk-throughs,” he said.
“I want to thank Dean [Nail, Housing Kitsap’s single-family housing director] and all the people at Housing Kitsap for giving me the opportunity to recognize a dream. Not only to being a homeowner but … in achieving a goal of learning how to build my own house.
“I got to be out here every week fulfilling that dream.”
Helping Rogers and the other homeowners fulfill that dream wasn’t easy, however. Nail said the current housing and land market in the region, not to mention the tight construction industry situation, has made it exceedingly difficult to acquire lane.
“We worked very hard to accomplish this. We have a program that has been operating for over 50 years. It’s been supported at all levels and we’re doing our very best to keep this program moving forward.”
At the federal level, Kirk Pearson, the USDA director for Washington state, said the Mutual Self-Help Housing program is one of the most popular of the federal agency’s programs because it promises homeownership.
“What better way to get to know your neighbor?” he said. “You get to work together and that’s what helps build communities. We’re very proud of the self-help program and we’ll continue to support programs like this in the state of Washington.”
Carli Schmitz, a spokeswoman for Housing Kitsap, said the agency has another housing project in Port Orchard — Sherman Ridge — that promises the homeownership dream for 27 prospective families. Located at Sherman Avenue and Melcher Street, near Pottery Avenue, she said the development is expected to see the start of construction sometime in the first half of next year.