Creating opportunities by building new home

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Sandy Williamson hugs her best friend, Diane Walling, at the groundbreaking of her new home. Williamson had to take the Rural Opportunities home-ownership classes to qualify for the home.

Source: The Star Press- Michael McBride (01-22-06)

Sandy Williamson knows what it’s like to live out of a trailer on the road, and by this summer, she’ll know what it’s like to live in her own, brand-new house.

Her three-bedroom house is being built on the outskirts of Selma.

It’s not only a first for Williamson; the construction marks the first time that the local office for Rural Opportunities Inc. has helped a first-time home buyer into a new house rather than assisting with the purchase of an existing home.

ROI has provided home-buyer workshops to 120 families in East Central Indiana over the past five years, but it is hard-pressed at times to find existing properties that appeal to participants. So ROI tapped additional grants that will allow the not-for-profit agency to market, then build five affordable new homes in Delaware County.

Williamson’s home is number one, and work will not begin on the second until an eligible buyer attends classes, posts worthy credit scores and secures financing.

The 45-year-old Williamson attended ROI workshops to learn how to improve her credit, and to learn how to qualify for grants and loans.

Her monthly mortgage payments will be less than rent she now pays for a four-bedroom home.

“It will be mine, and will be an investment for the future,” said Williamson, buyer of what is destined to become a 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. “I did not have bad credit. I had no credit, but I kept working at it until I finally qualified.”

The Muncie native went back to school, and she has been working as a coding and billing specialist at Open Door/BMH Health Clinic for the past six years.

New program

The local Rural Opportunities program was modeled — right down to the name — after a similar program in Rochester, N.Y., according to Annette Phillips, the agency’s Muncie-based community development director for Indiana.

The three-person office provides workshops for first-time home buyers in Delaware, Madison, Henry, Blackford and Randolph counties — excluding the cities of Muncie and Anderson, where similar efforts are provided through community development agencies.

Rochester, N.Y.-based Rural Opportunities had previously operated Indiana offices in either Indianapolis or Marion 1996-2000, mostly catering to Hispanic clients. Phillips, who had worked for the agency in Marion, began the local office at a Hartford City site in 2001, later moving it to Muncie.

“The new program goes beyond what we had accomplished in the past,” Phillips said, “and allows us to also make an impact on the available affordable-housing stock.”

Like Rural Opportunities, Habitat for Humanity is also plugged into government grants, but Habitat home buyers must help volunteers build their homes. The free labor makes the effort work for participants on the low side of low-income thresholds.

On the other hand, Phillips said ROI directed its efforts toward people near the top of a range of income-eligibile citizens — people who are also eager to join record numbers of homeowners, but are earning more money than is allowed for participants in the Habitat program.

“Habitat’s homes are more affordable for lower low-income families,” Phillips said. “Ours are larger with more amenities, and we finance them through conventional lenders.”

‘A very nice home’

Payne Construction submitted the low bid for Willamson’s home.

“It is not going to be real fancy, but it will be a very nice home,” said Danny Payne, who had previously built similar, 1,200-square-foot homes for income-appropriate buyers at the former site of Blaine School. “It will be comparable to any Habitat house.

“Their (Rural Opportunities’) plan is to build affordable homes for first-time buyers, and they are on the right track.”

Retail builders of speculative homes would likely have added brick fronts to the home’s all vinyl exteriors, garbage disposals and dish washers, and updates to the trim and lighting fixture packages, Payne said — but what has become standard amenities for builder homes would have jacked up the price. Payne is typically hired as a builder of larger homes or builds homes for sale, including at his Lion Country Safari subdivision.

He said Williamson’s place would be as small as any home he had built since his work at the Blaine site.

But Williamson said the place would be perfect for her and her youngest daughter.

Photo by: Melanie Maxwell


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