How did self-help housing start?

RALF, Department of Agriculture combine to make dreams reality

Q: What was the key to arriving at the point of breaking ground on Steamboat Springs' and Northwest Colorado's first self-help housing project?

A: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been the largest financial supporter of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation over the years. We have built upon the successes of the $400,000 Hillside Village Apartment renovations and received a grant from the USDA of $388,750 to provide technical support to build 24 houses in 24 months.

From a physical standpoint, securing the land was key because it is the most challenging obstacle. These funds were borrowed from the city, county and Community First National Bank, which all gave favorable terms and should be credited with helping make the project a reality.

Q: Can this success be repeated? Are you already pursuing a second project?

A: RALF has land under contract within the city of Steamboat Springs city limits for next year's units. A townhouse project is being explored at this time. Willing, qualified families are being recruited now for 2004 and should contact us at 870-0167.

This is a program with a two-year commitment. With success, future grants are encouraged, depending on federal government appropriations. And we are not restricted to Steamboat Springs. If other towns are interested in the program, they should contact us.

Q: In human terms, what demographic of resident does this program reach. Who are they? What are their needs?

A: All of the families must make less than 80 percent of the median income adjusted for family size. Of those, 40 percent of the group must make 50 percent or less of the median income. For a family of two, 80 percent is $42,000 per year for the household and 50 percent is $26,250. Our first group includes singles and families.

Our families have jobs in the service and professional service sectors. They include carpenters, Forest Service employees, massage therapists, Routt County Sheriff's Office workers, restaurant workers, retail clerks, excavating company workers, recreational tours employees and stay-at-home moms.

Q: Is there more that local government can do to help you complete successive projects?

A: I am waiting on building permits. If it takes the customary three weeks, we have lost this season for building because other departments cut off inspections Nov. 1.

I have worked as a professional planner for 28 years in two states and six different jurisdictions. I believe our system can work more efficiently with better results.

We have received strong verbal support for our housing programs from elected and appointed political bodies and have been high on their priority lists for several years. Unfortunately, the goals of the City Council are not getting translated into the standards and procedures of the city code. Pavement is a huge cost. Public works, fire, parks and transit all have requirements that are excessive, expensive and unnecessary. In tight budget years, some compromise in standards is the only contribution they can afford.

Q: Is it your hope that completion of a successful first project with the USDA will attract more grants to the region?

A: Yes. As our capacity continues to build as a nonprofit development/construction management company, grants are easier. In addition, smaller opportunity projects spin off, including the TIC Construction Training Program and Structure Tech documentation and presentation project. These two projects have been donated by private companies that believe in our mission. In addition, financing becomes easier, donations quicker, and our reputation is more widely respected.

Q: Because this program requires residents to help build their own homes, is it an easier sell in the political sense?

A: Many people in the community believe that folks should get a "hand up" not a "hand out." When households have to contribute 30 hours a week (after doing their two to three other jobs) for eight to 10 months, they have really earned their way into the path of building equity.

This program has support from Republicans and Democrats as demonstrated by the state legislators and one former legislator who attended the check presentation ceremony last week.

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