[Photo: A women on ladder and tool in hand]

ROSEBURG, OREGON - For many, shopping is relaxing, like playing golf, working the garden or preparing a great meal. Not so for families associated with the Umpqua Community Development Corporation in Roseburg, Oregon. "Shopping," for them, is an altogether different kind of activity. Guaranteed,

That's because they're building, not spending. "Building homes, building communities and building lives," as Umqua CDC executive director Betty Tamm said.

The "SHOP-ping" begins with S.H.O.P. - Self Help Homeownership Program - funds from HUD that Umpqua CDC uses to purchase and prepare buildable parcels in Douglas, Coos and Curry counties. Then the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Agency helps qualify income-eligible families for affordable mortgages. And the non-profit Community Frameworks – one of the best-known S.H.O.P. organizations in the country – makes sure funds were allocated and spent in compliance with HUD's rules.

Meanwhile, families are saving every penny they can for a down payment in an Umpqua CDC Dream$aver individual development account. For every dollar they save, the State of Oregon contributes $3, up to a match of $6,000. That's 300 percent interest, pointed out Umpqua's Rebekah Barger. "It's too good to be true, but it's very much true."

But then the really hard work begins. "Our program is a great collaboration among Federal, state and local agencies," said Tamm. "But the key element in the success of and biggest contribution to our collaboration is the family that not only puts its money, but also its muscles and time into building a house from the ground up."

Each family, in fact, contributes at least 1,500 hours of "sweat equity" building their homes, said Tamm, "one hammer stroke at a time. By the time they get the keys, they own the house in every sense of the word – financially, emotionally and, after 1,500 hours of hard work, physically."

So far, Umpqua CDC has helped tree dozen families build their own homes. Like its Camelot self-help development in Myrtle Creek, a rural community in Douglas County. Six houses already have already been built and occupied and families are being recruited for the next 10 homes.

Ground was broken for the Camelot development in May 2009, Tamm noted, right in the middle of one of the nation's deepest economic downturns. Thanks to HUD's SHOP funds, Umpqua CDC was able to avoid any losses in the sale of the parcels to the families. It also used American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funds awarded by Governor Kulongoski to hire five unemployed construction workers to help for more specialized construction needs as well as help from the Wolf Creek Job Corps to lay sidewalks and driveways.

The resources, explained Tamm, helped "relieve families of extra loan burdens." And even though the downturn persists, it's already planning its next project – the 22-home Savannah Estates development to be built over the next two years in Winston.

"Sometimes you might wonder if the American dream is still possible for our younger generations."The News Review recently editorialized. "What if we told you it's not only possible, but there are programs designed to help people make that happen. And you can sign up right here in Roseburg. We're talking about the Dream$avers program and we can't imagine why everyone who qualifies for the program hasn't already enrolled."

And if you don't believe The News Review, ask any of the more than 200 people who've already "graduated" from Dream$aver by completing their education, starting a business, or, yes, building and buying a home and, thereby, made their dream come true.


Content Archived: December 23, 2013