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Building affordable housing via neighborly teamwork

Greta Mart/KCBX
One of the new, neighbor-built Atascadero Triangle homes.

Recently, 11 families got the keys to their brand new homes in Atascadero. A ceremony featuring local politicians and plenty of picture-taking marked the end of a year and a half long building process. The new homeowners had built their own and each other’s homes, creating close neighbor to neighbor relations along the way. 

The Atascadero Triangle development is another project by a non-profit called People’s Self-Help Housing (PSHH). CEO John Fowler described how this small neighborhood was built.

“We were lucky enough to buy these lots during auction in the down market, so we picked up these 11 lots at a very good price. And then we partner with USDA, who provides the construction and the final financing for the families, through lower interest rates and what have you...they don’t have a down-payment necessarily so their sweat equity becomes their down payment if you will. So it’s a way for low-income families to get into home-ownership,” Fowler said.

People’s Self-Help Housing has been partnering with the US Dept. of Agriculture for 47 years to build such affordable housing. It also partners with the Washington DC-based nonprofit Housing Assistance Council, which provides funding to PSHH to buy land parcels.

In general, a mutual self-help housing development is comprised of ten families. Requirements for the program include an annual income of at least $38,000, good credit and rental history, the ability to commit to 40 hours of work per week and U.S. citizenship or legal residency.

Atascadero Triangle is comprised of two different 1500-square-foot models, each with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage.

So how were these particular 11 families chosen for the program? After all, over 300 families applied and there are a lot of Central Coast residents who don’t make a lot of money and would love the chance to become homeowners.

“It’s literally a lottery,” Fowler said. “We went down to city hall, pulled names out, gave them numbers and went through all of win the lottery.”

Rachel Coons and her husband say they heard about People’s Self-Help Housing and the Atascadero development through a family friend who thought the couple would qualify. They applied in April of 2015 and started building in October of that year.

“We did not have construction skills, by any means, but we had a supervisor that would teach a group how to do something, and then do it for all the now we feel like we have construction knowledge,” Coons said.

The Coons are expecting a baby, and said their brand new starter house will be good for them for a long time.

“We will be moving in probably next weekend...we were hoping to move in this weekend but our house isn’t quite ready yet, but we’re almost there, we can wait another week,” Coons said.

Martin Rodriguez and his family moved to Atascadero from the Clovis area four years ago. They received a flyer advertising the program, submitted an application and got a lottery number.

“So of the lottery, I got number 20 - there’s 11 homes. There was a process of credit check and being able to meet the mortgage...a lot of people think they are handing us a free house, but that’s not the case, a lot of hard work that has gone into it, but it’s a blessing to be in this community Atascadero, and I’m just grateful and happy and my two young boys have a place to grow and live,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez works for a local heating and air conditioning company, so he came to the project with some construction skills. But he says the process from empty lot to a brand new home was no free ride.

“Every weekend from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and after work coming and putting in the was not small feat that’s for sure, lot of work went into it but it’s paid off’s exciting,” Rodriguez said. 

Currently, another 16 families in San Miguel are building their homes under the program. The non-profit owns another 70 lots in San Miguel that will be built upon in the future.

“So if people are interested in that, they should get a hold of us, at the website. We just finished a project in Oceano, Los Alamos...we have some lots in Morro Bay that will eventually be coming on board...Los we’ll be all around,” Fowler said.

People’s Self-Help Housing provides affordable housing in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.