Elisa Sand reports in Friday's MDL that Interlakes Community Action is hoping to provide more affordable housing in Madison through the USDA's Mutual Self Help Housing program. A USDA fact sheet (PDF alert!) says the program has been in existence for over 40 years (perhaps some of that socialism that darned LBJ foisted on everyone?), helping over 15,000 rural American families build affordable homes.
The concept is pretty cool: find three to six low-income families looking to get into decent housing of their own. They work together to build each other's houses—neighborly sweat equity to keep costs down. The families do all the work but the plumbing and electrical. ICAP or USDA provides all the tools. No one moves in until everybody's house is done, thus keeping everybody motivated until the last nail is pounded and last cabinet handle is screwed in.
ICAP has made progress with the program, building a hundred homes in Brookings and Watertown since 1997. At first I thought this program might replace one of my favorites, the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, but the two programs evidently co-exist well enough in Brookings, where Habitat has been building like gangbusters lately. It could be that the USDA/ICAP program serves a slightly higher niche in the housing market: Sand's report says Mutual Self Help puts up houses with mortgages of $90K and total value of $130K, while Habitat usually aims for houses that cost less than that, maybe around $80K. The two programs also have different funding sources: ICAP's project has federal backing, while Habitat runs completely on private donations.
I look forward to seeing Habitat and ICAP putting up good homes for low-income families. Heck, if this keeps up, the LAIC may not have to spend any funds on truly affordable housing (maybe they'll be able to transfer more Forward Madison money to the Main Street program... which, by the way, we haven't heard a word about since last spring—what gives?).
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