New homeowners pitch in for self-help housing

Project breaks ground on west side

Seven Steamboat families are in a race to put new roofs over their heads before winter sets in, and they'll have to do much of the work themselves.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held Tuesday for a new self-help housing project being sponsored by the Regional Affordable Living Foundation in West End Village. The terms of the federally assisted project require that new homeowners invest 30 hours of sweat equity a week in the construction process.

"I have none," Drew McElhany said when asked about his carpentry skills. "But I've learned a ton in just a few weeks. We're so excited to get started."

The future residents are being trained in basic construction skills courtesy of The Industrial Company (TIC). The nationally ranked contracting company operates a training facility conveniently located just down the hill from the new development near Downhill Drive.

The self-help project will consist of six duplex units and one single-family home. The duplex units will range in size from 900 to 1,100 square feet and will cost about $125,000 (with sweat equity). The residents had to fit income guidelines and have good credit ratings in order to qualify for the project. Their mortgage payments will be individually tailored to their individual circumstances. RALF director Ellen Hoj said the household incomes of the seven families range from $24,000 to $38,000.

Thanks to the federal program, the residents can get into their new homes without a down payment -- as long as they are willing to work hard. They're also required to provide their own carpentry tools.

Gigi Dennis, state director of the United States Department of Agriculture office of Rural Development in Lakewood, was on hand Tuesday to hand over a symbolic check for $388,750 representing a grant that is helping to enable the construction of the homes.

Dennis said she prefers to think of the new duplexes at West End Village as "work-force housing" rather than as "affordable housing."

"This is about our neighbors and helping our neighbors create their own worth and fulfill the American dream," Dennis said.

The Steamboat project marks the eighth self-help project in which her office has been involved, Dennis said, but the first time it has been able to undertake such a project in one of Colorado's mountain towns. The greatest barrier to accomplishing self-help projects in mountain towns is the price of undeveloped land, she said.

Although the residents will be expected to help build their new homes, there will be ample professionals on site. Wolf Bennett is RALF's construction manager and he fully intends to hire plumbers and electricians.

"I'm not pretending (the residents) will be professional carpenters at the end of this, but they'll have a lot of skills," Bennett said.

His goal is to get a waterproof membrane on the roofs of the buildings before winter. Panelized exterior walls will be delivered to the construction site soon. Only the interior walls will be framed on site.

Team members are meeting three times a week at TIC to build a construction shed. In the process, they are learning the necessary skills to build a roof and install drywall, for example.

Dennis said she is impressed with the quality of other housing being built in West End Village and its pleasing appearance.

"We're trying to get away from the stigma of what affordable housing is supposed to look like," she said.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com.

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