Families Built Their Own Homes


Kyle Heinecke, his wife and 27 other families built their own homes at the Tiebucker Estates subdivision in Somers, completing their houses in June 2006 after 14 months of working almost every evening, weekend and holiday.

“It feels really good to be paying a mortgage and not paying rent,” Heinecke said. Heinecke was a member of Phase II of the Mutual Self-Help Housing program’s project to build dozens of affordable homes in Somers over several years. Phase III is scheduled to begin in August of this year, with 16 more owner-built homes.

Mutual Self-Help Housing is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that helps people living on low to moderate incomes learn the construction skills to build their homes and their neighbors’ homes. Through contributing their time and effort, they earn their down payments, closing costs and equity, and end up with homes to call their own, a chance to build wealth, and an affordable mortgage instead of rental payments.

Phase II homeowners had to pay $9,000 more for their lots than the Phase I owners did, Heinecke said, even though all the lots were purchased at the same time. He charged that the extra cost of repairing a poorly built road was unfairly passed on to the new homeowners by raising their lot prices. They found out what had happened through a contractor, not from Northwest Montana Human Resources, he said.

Doug Rauthe, executive director of Northwest Montana Human Resources, disputed Heinecke’s claim. The budgets for the 28 homes were created nine months before building began, he said.

The Phase II project took four more months to complete than it was scheduled to, putting some of the new owners in a difficult position because their rentals were being sold out from under them and they had to scramble to find someplace to stay.

The lack of clear communication and support from Northwest Montana Human Resources eroded trust between the agency and the homeowners, some of whom disagreed among themselves about what to do, which created more interpersonal conflict, he said.

The USDA Rural Development state director and local USDA director are both new this year, he explained, and all the Mutual Self-Help construction staff have been “replaced by experienced, qualified professionals.”

The Phase II homeowners met some unexpected backlash from the community when they talked publicly about their situation, Heinecke said. Some people told them they should be grateful they got inexpensive homes and stop complaining. Some assumed they were getting free homes, which is completely false, he asserted.

“We worked for 14 months in trade for our down-payment,” he said. “We pay our taxes, we pay a full mortgage at a market rate. We’re not a burden on taxpayers by any means. They should be proud of us.

In spite of the hardships, Heinecke insisted he would go the Mutual Self-Help Housing route all over again. “I would recommend this [program] to anyone, still, instead of going to the bank and getting a loan. The program helps facilitate a sense of community. It is a dream come true to have a home, to know your neighbors, and most of all I think the biggest dream come true is that people didn’t think we could do it.

The Bigfork Eagle


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