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Home work pays off

Fri., Dec. 15, 2006

Janette Smith has a professional job and a college degree. She’s maintained good credit, keeping up on bills and student loan payments.

But until now, she hasn’t been able to purchase her own home.

Last July, Smith, 28, a legal assistant in a downtown law firm, began adding about 18 hours of painting and landscaping to her workweek.

That effort will pay off when Smith and her 23-month-old son, Colton, move into a light blue, 1,348-square-foot house with off-white trim in Greenfield Estates near Francis Avenue and Havana Street.

Seven other families also are getting homes in the same neighborhood, under a program in which low-income families move into affordable houses by helping build them.

“That’s the best Christmas present,” Smith said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Smith grew up in Spokane, graduating from East Valley High School. She said she wanted to stay in the area, but purchasing a home didn’t look likely.

She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Washington State University and earns $2,450 per month. But that wasn’t enough for the single mom to get out of renting.

Then she went to a meeting for prospective home buyers last April to learn more about her options and found Community Frameworks, a nonprofit organization funded by government grants.Under Community Frameworks’ sweat-equity program, low- and middle-income families help build the houses in exchange for their down payment and closing costs, Associate Housing Developer John Fisher said. Then they receive subsidized loans to keep mortgage payments low.

The program works much like Habitat for Humanity. But Community Frameworks isn’t just building a house, it is creating a neighborhood, and families help build their neighbors’ houses as well as their own.

Site supervisor Scott Doering taught the future homeowners to paint, lay baseboards, and install windows. He said the hardest part for most people was putting up level siding.

“But everybody caught on pretty quickly,” he said.

Smith said the work crews started at one end of the street and worked their way through their new neighborhood.

“So by the time we got to the end, we almost knew what we were doing,” she said.

They finished construction on the homes Sunday and are expected to move in next week.

Smith said building their houses together turned the future neighbors into friends before any of them move in. She and her future next-door neighbor have been hitting karaoke nights together.

Fisher said Community Frameworks purchased 36 lots at Greenfield Estates and will continue building with families who qualify for assistance. Work on the next 10 houses at Greenfield Estates is scheduled to begin in January. A community of 16 homes in the Medical Lake area is also set to begin next year, Fisher said.

The organizations and government agencies providing financial support have stipulated that the families helped must make less than 80 percent of the local median income. In Spokane County, the median income in 2005 was estimated at $41,667, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means a family qualifying for the Community Frameworks program cannot make more than about $33,000.

Glenn Crellin, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University, said that just isn’t enough to purchase most homes.

“It becomes a stretch both in terms of the ability to make payments and in terms of the ability to come up with the cash that’s required to get into a home in the first place,” he said.

Crellin said the median price of a Spokane home is about $191,000, far less than the median home in King County, coming in at over $432,000. But that is still too high for many families.

The organization’s homes, which range in size from two to four bedrooms, cost between about $125,000 and $140,000. A family attempting to buy one of those $140,000 homes without sweat equity or a subsidized mortgage would need to have a household income of about $41,000, Crellin said.

The physical labor is exchanged for a down payment and closing costs. The buyer then gets a bank mortgage based on income, with Community Frameworks helping to fill in the rest.

The subsidized loans don’t start accruing interest for the first five years. Then some of the debt can be forgiven depending on the terms of the deed, Fisher said.

That financial assistance is how Smith was able to purchase a four-bedroom house. Her monthly mortgage payments will be $647, or $122 more than she now pays for rent. She said Community Frameworks also made sure she wouldn’t have trouble making payments on her car and student loans once the mortgage bills started showing up. Smith said that between her day job, caring for Colton and the extra 18 hours of hard labor each week, the road to getting in the house has been tough, “but it’s worth it. Oh, it’s worth it.”


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