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State of Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development

Seal of reading "Celebrating 30 Years - CDBG Still Delivers - Performance Counts!

Self Help Virginia Program

CDBG 30th Anniversary Recognition of Excellence

One of the most pressing rural community development challenges is finding cost-effective ways to provide dependable potable water and sanitary wastewater disposal to residents of small rural communities. (Nationally, states spend about 25% of their State CDBG funds on water and sewer activities.) One novel concept is to take the self-help construction approach (most commonly associated with housing construction for extremely-low income homebuyers) and apply it to the installation of water and sewer lines. This concept, pioneered by the Renssellaerville Institute, has been adopted by several states, including the State of Virginia.

The Self Help Virginia water and sewer program is particularly innovative and successful. Through this program, the state is able to bring centralized water or sewer service (and often both) to remote, underserved, low-income rural communities where conventional infrastructure financing (loans or grants) would simply not be economically feasible. The Self Help Virginia program has been especially successful in the Appalachian counties of the state; the mountainous topography increases the engineering and cost challenges of building facilities for isolated communities, and the effects of coal mining in the region have resulted in severe water quality and supply problems.

The Self Help Virginia program takes advantage of local volunteer labor, initiative and creativity to provide water and sewer services where those services would be difficult or unaffordable to provide through conventional means. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development provides extensive up-front technical assistance and capacity-building help to help communities assess whether the program makes sense for them. Involving neighborhood residents in the construction management and in the actual installation of water and sewer lines means CDBG funds can be directed to engineering, materials and other necessary construction costs. The reduced labor costs mean savings of 40% or more can be achieved over conventional, entirely- contractor- built systems. This means first-time or upgraded water and sewer service can be provided to communities where it would otherwise be cost-prohibitive.

In the past six years, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has provided over $6.1 million of CDBG funding to assist 30 projects. Over 100 miles of pipe have been laid. Over 2800 people now have (or will soon have) reliable water and sewer service. The state has further supported revitalization in these areas with housing rehabilitation grants and other community development investments. The state has stretched its dollars by combining CDBG funding with Appalachian Regional Commission funding and local dollars. The state estimates the cost savings from the Self Help Virginia program to be nearly $10 million (a 62% reduction from the estimated "retail cost" of these projects had they been totally contracted out). The ultimate beneficiaries of this program are not just the community residents served, but other communities as well; by minimizing the CDBG investment in individual projects, more communities can be served statewide.

Content Archived: April 20, 2011

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U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20410
Telephone: (202) 708-1112 TTY: (202) 708-1455