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More in Community
200 homes built with teamwork
PARIS — Last Wednesday, Community Concepts hosted a spaghetti dinner at the South Paris Fire Station to celebrate a major milestone.
This month, the organization's Self Help Homeownership Program completed construction on its 200th home in a five-county area.
The program brings together groups of qualified participants, who help each other to physically build homes for themselves, from the ground up.
Over the course of a year, a team of six families build six homes for themselves, with a construction supervisor and professionals guiding them through the process and completing the specialized work, such as electrical wiring.
Susan Bradford, who oversees the program, says that, in the future, Community Concepts would like to move in a greener direction.
"We're leaning towards green building and energy efficiency," she said. "Right now, our homes use two tanks of oil per year to heat. That's pretty efficient, which we have to be. It doesn't do much good to put someone in a home when they can't afford to heat it."
Participants in the program have to qualify financially. They have to make enough money to meet a mortgage payment, but not so much money that they can get a house through more traditional means.
The number varies depending on county, number of family members, and daycare expenses.
"Generally speaking, a family of four in Oxford could not make more than $41,000 per year," said Bradford.
Community Concepts works with participants to get their financial affairs in order, which helps to qualify them for a rural development loan. Depending on things such as bankruptcies and outstanding credit issues, the process can take years.
Penny Belleville, who completed construction on her Oxford home in June, says that it took her more than six months to get approved for a new home.
"There was a girl in my nursing class that was doing the program," she said. "I was just living in a one bedroom trailer, and I started thinking about how to get my feet on the ground and work something out for my children."
Belleville says that she could have never qualified for the type of home loan offered by a bank.
"I was fresh out of nursing school, and I didn't have any money, and they wanted an enormous down payment," she said. "The payments would have been huge, and the interest would have killed me."
Instead, she made the decision to roll up her sleeves and help herself.
"I went back and forth because of the commitment and the sacrifices I would have to make," she said. "My work, even though I'd been here 22 years, wouldn't guarantee my hours and give me weekends off."
Weekends off are critical to the program. Each participant puts in 10 hours a day each Saturday and Sunday for the duration of the building period.
"It was hard getting out there in the cold every weekend," said Belleville. "At first it was very difficult, but after you do it over and over again, it got easier. It seemed like everyone kind of picked their jobs. I picked up on insulation, so we did the insulation at each house."
She said that the work requires some sacrifices.
"You sacrifice a lot of time with the kids," said Belleville. "I was never able to go to their hockey games."
Some groups take a year to complete construction, but Belleville's group completed its project in a little over nine months.
Bradford says that the program has successfully put families into homes all over the area, including Paris, Norway, and Oxford. One street in Oxford is composed entirely of program participants, who have built six or eight homes over a period of years.
"I really think it helps people," said Bradford. "It's very satisfying to get to the end of the day and say, 'I roofed that house! I did that!'"
Belleville's mortgage, at a little over $600 per month, includes taxes and insurance costs.
"They make it so you can live," said Belleville.
By contrast, she has a family member who is paying $1,200 per month on a mortgage, and is having a difficult time selling in the current market.
"It was hard work, but it was well worth it," said Belleville.
Now, she says, she wouldn't trade it for anything.
"Everybody dreams of owning their own home," she said. "The kids love it. My seven-year-old will draw pictures of it and tell me how much she loves the house."
Now, the Belleville family is looking forward to filling their new home with traditions.
"It will be a nice Christmas," said Belleville.