Self-help Housing Needing Help to Stave off Impact of Federal Budget Cuts

March 22, 2011; Source: Herald Journal | Utah Republican Rob Bishop toured new Mutual Self-Help Housing Program homes in Nibley, Utah at a ribbon cutting hosted by the developer, the Neighborhood Nonprofit Housing Corporation. It must have been bittersweet for the NNHC and its 14 new homeowners, because Bishop is on record favoring cutting the Department of Agriculture first-time homebuyer program that made the homes available.

Rather than thanking the Congressman as most of these photo-op ribbon-cuttings expect of the beneficiaries, Katherine and Danny Bueno, two of the families who combined federal subsidies with sweat equity to build the homes, handed Bishop a letter asking him to help find ways of funding and continuing the program. Bishop's response was a little out of touch with reality: "I have no idea where this will end up budgetarily. But this is one of those types of programs where the funding doesn't necessarily have to come from Washington. It's a great state and local community concept and there are other ways to help these people help themselves."

Perhaps someone should explain the concept of "sweat equity" to the Congressman. Sweat equity is people helping themselves. The USDA program is predicated on making homes available to families willing to put sweat into building their homes – and those of their neighbors as well. (The "mutual housing" concept has families working together to build approximately 65 percent of their homes.)

Even with sweat equity, one should tell the Congressman, it still takes funding to make new homes available and affordable to lower income people like the small town residents of Nibley. Please inform the Congressman that, according to NNHC, each family contributes "a minimum of 35 hours of labor per week for approximately 8 to 12 months . . . [and] no one moves in until all the homes are completed."

Is the Congressman simply misinformed or talking as fast as he can to avoid looking into the eyes of homeowners who put 1,680 to 1,820 sweat-equity hours into becoming homeowners in rural Utah?—Rick Cohen

About

Rick Cohen

Rick joined NPQ in 2006, after almost eight years as the executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Before that he played various roles as a community worker and advisor to others doing community work. He has also worked in government. Cohen pursues investigative and analytical articles, advocates for increased philanthropic giving and access for disenfranchised constituencies, and promotes increased philanthropic and nonprofit accountability.