'Sweat equity' pays off for Dayton housing program

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A representative of the Bush administration came to Dayton on Tuesday for a National Homeownership Month event, but it was the local homeowners who stole the show.

Gilbert Gonzalez, acting undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agricultural Rural Development, was there to present a check for $113,805 to Citizens for Affordable Housing Inc., who are providing lower-cost homes to first-time homebuyers.

The program, partially funded by USDA Rural Development grants, allows participants who earn at least $22,000 per year, have good credit and can commit 35 hours per week of "sweat equity" to build their own homes. Builders must also be citizens or have qualified alien status.

Doreen Bender said building her home has been a wonderful experience. She said she had medical problems two months into the building and wasn't sure she would finish, but was encouraged by the CAHI staff and volunteers.

"I never thought any of this would happen to me," she said, her voice breaking. "It's really special."

Ernest Osborne joined the program three years ago and got laughs with his comments.

"The first day of this program, I got so excited. Then three months later, I wasn't as excited," he said. "I feel tired. It's real tough, but the payoff is enormous. I have something now. I'm not just throwing money away on rent."

When he rose to speak, the undersecretary brought all of the homeowners to stand beside him.

"I can tell you that President Bush, in 2002, established a goal of homeownership for 5 million families by 2010," he said. "In five years, 2.3 million families in the U.S. now own their own homes."

He said rural homeownership rates have eclipsed the national rate, with 76.1 percent of rural households owning their own homes, compared with 69.2 percent nationally.

"Rural development through self-help is not just about building houses, it is about building communities," Gonzalez said. "It strengthens families, strengthens communities, and strengthens the U.S. economy."

Gonzalez also noted that children from families who own their homes do better in school, and that the parents develop additional skills.

One example of that is German Franco, who with his wife, Lydia, and their 7-year-old daughter, Genesis, was part of the first group of home builders.

He did so well building his home that CAHI hired him, and now he is a construction supervisor.

Dwane Allen, construction supervisor on the project, says the down payment often keeps people from buying a home, even if they are not in a lower-income bracket.

"I don't like the term low-income housing, because everyone is not broke," he said. "I prefer entry-level housing. If you have a family, you're chasing a down payment."

CAHI Chief Executive Officer Ron Trunk said that in the past five years, USDA has spent $7.3 million for housing in Dayton.

"The ownership society that President Bush envisions is that if people own their homes and own their own businesses, it builds stronger families and stronger communities," Gonzalez said. "And single-family direct and self-help programs is probably where you find the greatest level of minority participation, because it addresses affordability."

New homeowner Sarah Hasson said she knows she and her husband, Lynn, would not have been able to buy a home without the CAHI program.

"We did some extensive research," she said. "I know there are other programs with down payment assistance, but the interest rate they charged was always too high."

n Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com.


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