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Families build up sweat equity

Linda Hiller, staff writer

It looks like an ordinary neighborhood, but it’s really quite extraordinary. Cahi Circle in the Gardnerville Ranchos is the home to nine families who have sweated home ownership in more ways than one.

“This is a program that has been around the country for 35 years or so, to assist low- and very-low income families into their own homes,” said Connie Hartley, group coordinator for Citizens for Affordable Housing (CAHI). “They have to qualify under three criteria – be inside the income guideline, have good credit and have the time to do the work. The homes are built by all the families working together – we had nine families build nine homes together.”

Beginning in January, the nine families, under the supervision of Tom Finch, construction manager for CAHI, worked together, putting in “sweat equity” toward each of their houses. This month, many of the families moved in to their homes and that milestone is going to be celebrated Saturday with a “move-in celebration.”

One family, Erin Wetzel and her fiance Jeremy Davidson, are looking forward to a raising their son, Spencer Davidson-Wetzel, nearly 2, on Cahi Circle among friends and fellow “construction workers.”

We’re all pretty close still,” Wetzel said of her neighbors. “We’ve been in the house for three weeks now and it’s great.”

Wetzel, 21, a 1997 Douglas High School graduate, said she and Davidson, DHS 1997, started applying for the CAHI program in May 1998 after her mother, who works for Nevada Rural Housing, told her about it. The couple had to qualify first, and that took some time, Erin said.

“We were so excited when we learned we’d qualified,” she said. “I liked doing the finish work inside the best and the outside landscaping the least because it was in July and we were out there raking the rocks in the heat.”

Hartley said the nine families on Cahi Circle include single mothers, newlyweds and a single male. This is the third location in Northern Nevada for the USDA Rural Development program -others are in Dayton and Fallon, she said.

Homeowners will still have house payments, but the program requires no down payment, no closing costs and provides low interest loans for the participants, Hartley said.

She said each homeowner has approximately $25,000 equity in their new home.

The Cahi Circle homes represent a growing form of partnerships in rural Nevada communities known as Mutual Self-Help Housing, bringing together low-income families willing to learn to build their own homes; CAHI, which manages the project and supervises construction; and USDA Rural Development, which provides a technical assistance grant to CAHI and low-cost mortgages to the families.

She declined to specify the interest rates, but said they are below market. The Cahi Circle homes range in size from 1,136 to 1,480 square feet.

“Nine families worked at least 35 hours per week to accomplish their goals. It’s a tremendous process,” said Tom Baker, rural director for U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan. “These families have been willing to sacrifice their evenings, weekends and days off to participate in the building of their new homes. It’s great to witness the pride of accomplishment which comes to these families as they realize their dreams.”

Bill Brewer, rural housing program director, USDA Rural Development agreed.

“Self-Help Housing is our best example of building communities and neighborhoods, while building homes. The homeowners work together as a team and learn valuable construction and home maintenance skills. This project is the fourth in Nevada as a result of the partnership between CAHI and USDA Rural Development,” Brewer said.

“I am extremely pleased to see these rural Nevada families move into their first new homes. They can be very proud of a job well done,” said Art Seavey, executive director, CAHI. “The second group of families in the Gardnerville development have started construction and the foundations have been poured.”

Youth and staff from the Rite of Passage (ROP), an athletic, vocational and academic training program for teen-age boys, have helped in construction and will be present at Saturday’s celebration. In a unique partnership, ROP students receive construction skills training from CAHI and, in return, volunteer labor to the Self-Help Housing families.

County Commission Chair Jacques Etchegoyhen, Baker, Brewer, and Seavey also are expected to be on hand for the festivities which begin at 10 a.m.

For more information on Self-Help Housing or any other USDA Rural Development program, call the State Office located in Carson City at 887-1222 or visit the USDA Rural Development Web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov. CAHI can be reached at 883-7101 or (800) 429-0132.