Housing program nearly complete

Homeowners preparing to move in to Steamboat's first self-help housing

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Seven families come together to build one another's houses every weekend for nine months and during harsh winter conditions. No one can move in until the last house is finished.

It is not a pitch for a new reality TV show. No one is getting kicked off the island, either. Rather, it is the story of seven Steamboat families who first learned the ins and outs of construction and then built their own homes as part of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation's Mutual Self Help Housing program.

The program made homeowners out of residents who otherwise never could have afforded to do so in a county that ranks among the top 20 in the nation for housing costs.

The program had plenty of drama and group dynamics to fill an hour time slot for several weeks, participants said. The program required every family to spend 30 hours a week building a house, with some families starting with little to no construction background.

They built in zero degree weather. They worked in hail, snow and rain.

And the prize at the end was homeownership and million-dollar views from West End Village.

"I am not going to sugar coat it. It was very, very hard," participant Christina Davis said. "Seven families together every weekend for almost an entire year -- in the middle of the winter in Steamboat, in severe weather conditions."

But Davis, who had not hung so much as a picture on a wall before entering the program, said she would do it again.

In August, she, her husband, Rob, and her two children expect to move into the home. When they do, they will know every aspect of their home and their neighbors. Best of all, they will have a three-bedroom house with straight-on views of the ski mountain and downtown Steamboat.

"I am very, very happy," Davis said.

Their neighbors, Mike and Bean Doyle, also are happy. When the family, which includes 3-year-old Kai and 2-year-old Ayla, moves into the house, it will be the last of many moves in the past year. When the family applied for the program, they were living in a trailer in Dream Island.

"I would say the biggest thing I have learned is that if you don't get it done, it doesn't get done," Mike said. "Not necessarily you as a person, but as a collective effort."

Bean said the hardest part was shoveling snow every morning in the winter before starting to work.

"You keep seeing the big picture," she said. "Which made the work all that much easier."

On Wednesday, public officials from across the state held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the about to be completed self-help housing project. Many were part of the group that attended the ground breaking in September and were in awe of the construction.

USDA State Director Gigi Dennis noted it was the first self-help housing program in a high-cost mountain town in Colorado. Seven other self-help housing programs have been done in the state.

The state is looking to do similar projects in Gunnison, Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte, Dennis said.

"Steamboat is a milestone for rural development," Dennis said. "I am proud of the families."

The Regional Affordable Living Foundation facilitated the project and was able to do it with a $388,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. The grant went to the administrative costs of the projects, and each of the families received a 100 percent construction loan ranging from $126,000 to $145,000.

When the families are finished, RALF President Kathy Meyer said they will have gained $50,000 to $60,000 in equity. The units likely will appraise for between $200,000 and $240,000 each.

The program is intended for those who make 80 percent of the median income or less. In Routt County that means a single person household must make less than $36,749, a two-person household less than $41,999, a three person household less than $47,249 and a four person household less than $52,499.

Participants could not own a home and had to have good credit and enough income to repay the loan.

The three duplexes and one single-family home will house 11 adults and six children. The duplex units are 1,200 square feet with three bedrooms. The single home is 1,000 square feet with two bedrooms.

The group started the project by taking construction classes at TIC. Except for the technical jobs, such as electricity, dry walling and plumbing, the group built the houses.

Their first project was building a shed, which housed their supplies during the winter and will be moved to Hayden where the next Mutual Self-Help Housing project is slated.

Group members did the foundation, the framing, the roofing, the siding and cabinet installation.

Wolf Bennett, the construction site supervisor, said the participants discovered which tools they were proficient at and where their talents fit. He also said the concept of not allowing anyone to move in until the last home was built was a motivating factor.

"I am pleased with the affordable homes built as a result of this program. I am pleased with the skill level some of the people have attained. I am pleased with the design, and I am pleased with how they turned out," he said.

Davis, whose husband is in the construction trade, said she learned how to set rebar, metal stakes that support concrete and frame windows.

"If I never have to hold another nail gun in my hands, that is fine with me," Davis said.

But if something needs to be repaired or if the family wants to make improvements, Davis said the family will know how to do it.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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