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Program hopes to unlock doors for low-income home ownership

A dancer-athlete vaults clear over the heads of the dance line, halfway out of the camera frame and braces to land on the floorboards of the Price Civic Auditorium stage Friday night. The Workout Elite Company was one of many to perform at the Castleview Hospital's 11th Annual Variety Show, "A Touch of Hawaii." Proceeds from the ticket sales went to the benefit of Perkie Travel.

By JOHN SERFUSTINI
Sun Advocate associate editor

A pilot program designed to help low-income families work their way into their own homes is under way in Carbon and Emery counties.

It goes by the tongue-twisting name of Self-Help Acquisition and Rehabilitation Housing Program but its acronym, SHARHP, is easier to handle. And as long as we're in acronym city, we might as well say that it is a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Agency (USDA) and the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments (ALG).

Marilyn Vogrinec and Barbara Fausett of the ALG explained that it is a basically a program that uses the "sweat equity" of prospective homeowners to cover the down payment and rehabilitation of substandard properties. Vogrinec, who is program manager, said it should cut through the logjams that create no-win situations for families, property owners and communities alike.

Low-income people generally can't afford the down payments for mortgages on nice homes, and lenders are leery about carrying mortgages on run-down or substandard housing. The result is that people who want homes go without, while houses needing rehabilitation remain vacant and neighborhoods become blighted.

Vogrinec said that through SHARHP, USDA will make mortgages available to qualified low-income applicants and also provide up-front money for property rehabilitation. The ALG will hire a licensed contractor to serve as a trainer and project manager for the families.

This is no gift. The burden is on the borrower to find the property, qualify for the program and do all the work except for electrical and plumbing to bring the house up to code.

"Everyone comes out a winner," Vogrinec said. "Homeowners will learn the skills they need and they'll have equity in the homes. USDA adds value to its portfolio. Communities get rid of blight."

The seller also gets the money up front. "It ends the stalemate between seller and lender," Fausett said.

There is already one prospective homeowner involved in the program, a single mother who is working part time. She'll be working not only at her income-producing job, but also on projects around the house that have been identified by the construction supervisor as necessary to meet lending and occupancy standards.

That means tiling, stucco, roofing, floor covering, and building access to the basement. She'll also be allowed to use as much volunteer help from friends and family as needed.

"We have a tool trailer with things like ladders and power tools," Vogrinec said, "but people will have to buy their own hand tools." The construction supervisor will train the woman on techniques, especially safety precautions with the power tools.

After some 240 hours of work, the home should be ready for occupancy. No one can move in until the building is inspected and certified.

One big advantage of moving into an inspected home is that there should be no surprises for the occupants for many years. Getting the maintenance out of the way up front can prevent a lot of unexpected repair expenses later, which will give people a chance to stabilize their finances, Vogrinec and Fausett explained.

The qualifications for the program vary according to income and family size. Applications are available at the ALG offices, the old Reeves School building on the corner of 400 South and Carbon Avenue in Price.

The goal is to put 12 families in homes over the next two years. If the program proves successful here, it could be expanded to other areas, Vogrinec and Fausett said.

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