May 15, 1997 in Washington Voices

Hands-On Program Gets Families Into Own Homes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Joe and Marcia Melton dreamed of owning their own home. But with one small child and another on the way, saving $10,000 for a down-payment seemed impossible.

Then they heard about HomeStarts, a housing program that helps families build their own home to earn the down payment.

Joe Melton, who says he’d never even used a paint brush before embarking on the project last year, signed up.

He spent evenings and weekends hammering, sawing boards, installing wallboard, building stairs and nailing trim.

Tuesday, after a long, stressful, exhausting year, the Meltons showed off their light and airy two-bedroom home.

Down the street, Gene Goben, a single father, is putting the finishing touches on his house.

Mary Sinclair and daughter Alicia are looking forward to moving into their home.

Together with three other families, these people have built a neighborhood, and a close bond.

“The best thing about this program is getting to know your neighbors,” said Melton, whose house became the neighborhood gathering and eating spot during construction. Once, the house even sported a sign advertising “Eat At Joe’s”.

Other families moved into the first phase about a year ago. The Meltons and five other families are part of phase two, located near North Foothills Drive.

The next round of home building is starting near Esmeralda Golf Course, on East Fairview.

“You need absolutely no carpentry skills,” said Joanne Amsbury, who manages the program for Northwest Regional Facilitators.

“There is a contractor who works with the program, a site manager who guides them. They get extensive training in construction, the proper way to use tools, first aid and CPR,” said Amsbury

“We provide the power tools, they bring hand tools,” she said.

The general contractor is Frank Lehman. He teaches novices who have never hoisted a hammer how to measure, cut, use power tools and “mud” wallboard.

“I take the time to show them how to do the work, then cut them loose and let them do it,” said Lehman.

He’s also serves as counselor, father figure, cheerleader and friend throughout the rigors of home building. It’s not always easy.

“The hardest part was when they started dragging and I had to tell them to pick up the pace. They were slacking off,” said Lehman.

Families are required to work at least 30 hours a week building their house. Since holding down a full-time job is also a program requirement, home-building happens in the evening and on weekends.

For Sinclair, building the house meant finding someone to watch her daughter. She was touched by the amount of help contributed by her friends, family and co-workers.

“My father has been here a lot,” she said.

Goben, a single father, gave up a lot of time with his young daughter this year to finish the house.

“You have no personal life, no family life. It’s off work and straight to the house to build,” he said.

But when it’s all over, the home is theirs.

HomeStarts was developed when Northwest Regional Facilitator’s housing staff kept running into hardworking families who couldn’t afford to buy homes in Spokane.

They also noted that communities are eroding as people lose connections with their neighbors.

Since HomeStart families work in teams, often helping each other build the houses, they develop strong relationships before they even move in.

To be eligible for the program, a family of four has to have an income under $30,000 per year. The requirement for smaller or larger families is adjusted accordingly.

Monthly mortgage payments, including tax and insurance, range from $500 to $600 per month. Houses are valued around $82,000 to $85,000.

Kitchens have custom oak cabinets, stoves and dishwashers. Families choose their own carpets, paint colors and light fixtures. The price includes some front yard landscaping and a rear deck.

Watching Melton show off his new home, the pride of ownership is obvious.

Already the year of sweat and stress is starting to fade.

Would he do it again?

“Oh, heck yes!” he said without hesitating.

, DataTimes


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