One way to take the edge off the December chill in southeast Idaho is a cup of warm cocoa and a comfortable chair near a roaring wood stove.

But 26 families from Bingham, Bonneville and Jefferson counties and the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership (EICAP) have a considerably more ambitious idea in mind – housewarming parties.

[Photo: Raising a wall for a new home]
Raising a wall for a new home

While this time of year most of us are busy trimming trees, wrapping presents, and checking their lists twice, these 26 families are hard at work putting the finishing touches on a very big dream – a new home they own and can move into during the holidays. It will be the biggest and maybe the best gift they’ve ever gotten.

And they’re giving it to themselves. They’ve been at it for almost a year as part of EICAP’s Mutual Self Help Housing Program which makes homeownership affordable by using the sweat and the labor of the homebuyer as a down payment.

Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development help the Partnership acquire the building sites. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency provides the financing. And the tough, technical work is done by licensed subcontractors.

But the other 65 percent of the work on these energy-efficient three- and four-bedroom houses – the hammering, sawing, painting, spackling and sanding – is done by the families themselves, standing and sweating shoulder-to-shoulder with each other.

“They work together as a team to build each other’s houses,” EICAP foreman Shandon Hutchens told KIFI-TV. “They don’t come here and just build their own home. Everyone is together and we go in order. So we’ll frame floors and walls and do it in order” so all the houses are built and finished “at the same time.”

“It gets frustrating at times,” first-time homeowner Sara Kurtner explained to KPVI-TV. “You have to be patient with yourself and the people that you work with. But it’ll be worth it in the end.”

“At EICAP,” adds housing director Dixie Campbell, “we like to say that we’re building a stronger community one home at a time. But the “we” are really these 26 families and the 124 other families who, since 1998, have put the time and the effort into building their own homes. If self help is transforming Idaho, they’re the ones who deserve the credit. They’ve given themselves one of the best gifts of all – owning their own home.”

Content Archived: August 15, 2011