Sweat and hard work may no longer be enough to own a home

Future of USDA housing program in doubt

SILVERDALE — Hard-working lower-income Kitsap residents may no longer be able to buy an affordable home through the sweat of their collective brows.

Hard work and commitment. It’s the American way. Proud citizens improving their lives through hard work.

Which is why it is hard for Housing Kitsap Executive Director Stuart Grogan to believe the government will eliminate the USDA Rural Development Self-Help Housing Program, better known as the “sweat equity” home-building program. Howevwer, he admits that “while it is the early days of this administration and in the federal [budget] cycle, I am a bit concerned.”

Through the sweat-equity program, by the end of this year Housing Kitsap will have helped more than 900 lower-income Kitsap residents become homeowners. Under the program, would-be homeowners do about 65 percent of the construction on their new homes, in lieu of a down payment.

With assistance from a contractor, those individuals and families build foundations (tying rebar and such), frame walls, hang doors and windows, lay flooring, and paint.

Groups of nine to 12 families at a time pool their efforts. All of the prospective owners and their families spend a minimum of 30 hours a week working together on all of their homes — no one moves into their home until every house in their group is completed. Once finished, USDA Rural Development provides the families with mortgages through the Single Family Housing Direct Loan Program.

Nationally, the RDSHP program has helped hard-working Americans build more than 50,000 homes across the U.S. since 1971, according to its blog.

Think of it as a modern version of an old-fashioned, American barn- or house-raising.

But now, much like the barn-raising, it could become a thing of the past.

Future of USDA Rural Development Self-Help Housing Program in jeopardy

On April 25, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America.” In it, there is no direct mention of housing or home ownership or rental housing. or rural housing.

“The enumerated policy points focus almost entirely on agricultural production and agribusiness,” stated the National Rural Housing Coalition. “A ‘reliable workforce’ for those rural businesses must have access to safe, clean, and affordable housing, water systems and community facilities.”

And while it calls for the creation of the Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agriculture Affairs, it also proposes eliminating the Under Secretary for Rural Development.

What the USDA program is doing in Kitsap County today

In Kingston, through the RDSHP, Housing Kitsap is helping new homeowners build 12 new homes at Lola Meadows. Meanwhile, the plat work is done and work on the first nine homes in the new 27-home Maple Lane development in Kingston will begin in mid-June.

When the last of the sweat equity homes of the Summerset subdivision in Poulsbo are completed this fall, Housing Kitsap will have helped hard-working new homeowners build 40 homes since the project started in September 2015. Housing Kitsap’s first Poulsbo project included 98 homes at Vetter Homestead. That project was started 11 years ago and is complete.

Late this summer, construction is slated to begin on what ultimately will be 36 homes at Prosperity Place. Also, in the Port Orchard pipeline is Sherman Hills, a home development with up to 33 homes; housing construction there is slated to begin the winter of 2018.

These are all two- to four-bedroom single family homes.

Putting a human face on the numbers

Fifty thousand homes. Nine hundred homes. Thirty-six homes. These are just numbers, just statistics. To put a human face on the numbers, you need to talk with one of the proud, new homeowners.

Tiffany Yeadon is one of the newest sweat equity home builders-owners at the Summerset project. She just finished her new three bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom 1,400 square foot home and got her keys on May 17.

“When I pull up it still feels like a dream,” she said. “This is the nicest home I’ve ever lived in on my own.”

Yeadon voted for Trump, but she says she disagrees with him when it comes to possibly canceling the sweat equity homes program.

“People who have money think that people that don’t, just want handouts. Just because I don’t make the big bucks doesn’t mean I don’t deserve it. I worked damned hard for this [house] … It’s not a handout. We’re working for what we’re getting. I worked my ass off for it,” she said.

Housing Kitsap estimates that the labor homeowners like Yeadon perform totals about $60,000 worth of work — the equivalent of a 33-percent down payment.

“For 15-1/2 months I was working 40 hours a week [on my house] and 40 hours a week at work … [toward the end]last, there were a couple of us [homeowners] who were putting in 60 hours a week trying to get things done. [All] so I could have a brand-new affordable home,” she said.

“I think that’s sad [that Trump has proposed canceling the program]. People need this in order to survive. How else are we supposed to have the American dream if we can’t find a program that helps?” she asked.

To learn more about the USDA Rural Development Self-Help Housing Program, go to www.blogs.usda.gov and search for “sweat equity.”

The USDA has published a notice seeking public comment on the proposed reorganization in the Federal Register. Comments are due on or before June 14, 2017 and can be submitted electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

— Terryl Asla is a reporter for the Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at tasla@soundpublishing.com.