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New home open for tours as part of program

County residents are being invited to join with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the East Missouri Action Agency in celebrating Homeownership Week in an event Monday at Columbia Park in Park Hills.

As part of the observance, the new home of Greg and Loan Beavers at 258 Coolidge will be open for tours from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The house is one of the latest completed under the Self-Help Housing Program sponsored by EMAA and funded through the Rural Development division of the U.S.D.A. The house is located only a short distance from the park.

The event in the park will begin with a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. followed by a program featuring prominent U.S.D.A officials from the state, regional and national levels. The host for the event will be Greg Branum, U.S.D.A Rural Development director for Missouri.

Among the speakers participating will be the administrator of the federal agency’s Rural Housing Service in Washington, D.C., Arthur Garcia. Sheri Bickmeyer, acting director of Centralized Servicing Center in St. Louis will also participate.

Staff members of the Rural Development office located in Farmington will also take part in the event, with Melody Barron singing the National Anthem and “God Bless America.”

Bill Bunch, executive director of EMAA, and members of the Self-Help Housing program staff at EMAA will also take part in the program.

Linda Dickerson, Self-Help program coordinator, said the event is more than just an observance of Homeownership Week, a national event. It is also a celebration with the Self-Help Housing participants on completion of their new homes. Certificates of appreciation will be presented to the Self-Help families by Branum.

The children of Self-Help families will also lead those present for the ceremony in reciting The Pledge of Allegiance.

The Self-Help Housing program is a unique approach toward helping people build new homes, Dickerson said. Those who qualify are given low-interest loans and get credit for “sweat equity,” which is an allowance toward the cost of the new home earned by doing a significant part of the construction.

Site excavation, concrete work and framing for new houses are done by private contractors, as well as the heating and cooling. Basically, Dickerson said, the rest of the work is done by the new homeowners.

“We have two construction supervisors who teach the families how to do the work,” Dickerson said, “but the supervisors are not allowed to do the work for them.”

The families — and Dickerson explained they don’t necessarily have to be families to qualify — then install the electrical system, plumbing, insulation and dry wall. They also do all of the finishing work with the exception of laying carpet, which is also contracted out.

When applicants are approved to participate in the program, they are required to sign a document promising they will do their own work or — if they are physically unable to do it — will find someone to do it for them. This is a means of assuring a personal commitment to the project.

There are income guidelines that must be met to qualify for the program, Dickerson said, but they are not highly restrictive. She also stressed that while the houses are built as family style dwellings, single people can qualify for the program. A key requirement is that participants must be able to pay off the loan and have acceptable credit. This is not a giveaway program.

The houses may have up to 1,250 square feet of floor space and must include three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Generally, they must also have a full basement but there has been one exception to that since the program started locally. The cost of having a full basement in the one house constructed in Farmington under the program was prohibitive and an exception was made, Dickerson said.

The EMAA is working with its second grant through the U.S.D.A. Rural Development program. Sixteen houses were completed under the first grant and four have now been completed under the second grant. Most of them are in Park Hills but one was also constructed in a rural area of the northern part of the county, another in Bonne Terre and the one in Farmington. The first home built locally in the program was completed in October of 1999.

Some sites in Park Hills where Self-Help homes have been constructed were obtained through the Housing Redevelopment program of the city. In that program, substandard housing is torn down but must be replaced with a new house within 18 months.

With three more applications already approved under the latest grant, Dickerson said EMAA has allocations left for nine additional houses. She urged those interested to contact the Self-Help program at EMAA to learn more and submit their applications. Even if they get more applications than they currently have allocations for, Dickerson said, it would be good because they would like to have a waiting list when a third grant might be sought from the federal agency.

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