Buoyed by hope and joined by sweat, five North Side families are working together to build their dream homes.
Rising in the 2900 block of North Dakota Street, near an industrial area, the homes are part of a pilot program that allows families to own new houses without a down payment or closing costs.
The sweat-equity concept, in which labor is used to replace cash at closing, is not new and has been used for years by such groups as Habitat for Humanity. The programs are among of the most effective ways for working families to become home owners.
Many can afford monthly mortgage payments - and often pay more to a landlord - but cannot save enough cash for a down payment, as much as $10,000 for a typical Spokane home.
But the unintended result of the program, spearheaded by Northwest Regional Facilitators, a non-profit organization, is that the families are building on adjacent lots and will help sustain a neighborhood as well as drive nails.
“We all work on all the homes, and all the homes will be finished before we move in,” said Louise Scherschel, 42, who with her husband Doug, a pastor, and four children will own one of the houses. “We’ll either love each other or hate each other by the time we’re done.”
The families have already shown which direction they’re heading.
Scherschel and future neighbor Lillian Findley, 52, were standing in the framed living room of a twobedroom home that will be owned by Renae Nilles, 27, a day-care teacher and her husband, James, a West Valley High School teacher.
They joked about taking one still unsold lot for open space and building a community swimming pool, and about their future neighborhood.
“We’ve had way too much fun already,” Findley said, “and now we’re talking about being neighbors.”
“We’re having a ball,” exclaimed Nilles.
The program is one of several spurred by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, whose goal is to help first-time home buyers below a certain income level. Northwest Regional Facilitators acts as the developer, with project money coming from Seafirst Bank, and is responsible for everything from road paving to utilities.
Seafirst Bank has also committed to underwriting the mortgage loans for the families, which will qualify for low-interest federally backed loans.
The homes will be valued at $90,000 to $115,000.
Under the program, each household is required to work 35 hours per week over a six-month period. A professional contractor is coordinating the labor, and such work as installation of the heating and electrical systems is contracted out for safety reasons.
For the Scherschels, who live in a house owned by their church, the sweat-equity program enables them to get into a home where they can build equity and establish security.
“We couldn’t have done it,” Scherschel said. “The down payment would have been too hefty for us.”
Nilles, who has a 2-year-old daughter, faced a similar problem.
“We don’t have anything for a down payment,” she said.
The Findleys have owned a home before but said they recently filed for bankruptcy after a business failure and would not qualify for a mortgage.
Northwest Regional Facilitators intended to develop the program using scattered city lots, said assistant director Jayne Auld. The agency figured the price of development would be less because scattered lots tend to be in existing neighborhoods with paved streets and sidewalks.
But when the 12 vacant lots on Dakota near Euclid became available, the agency decided there would actually be savings in transportation and construction by having them together, even though the street must be paved and curbed.
“Having all of them together is going to be a big benefit,” said Auld. “The friendship and bonds with the families have already been established.”
Added Findley: “Instead of having a child, we’re having homes.”
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MEMO: The Homestart program is still accepting applications from families. For more information call, 484-6733