Home is where your start is

Baraboo News Republic | September 07, 2013

Five local families are building the future of their neighborhood together.

Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, administered locally by Habitat for Humanity of Sauk-Columbia Area, a row of five houses is slowly but surely going up on Baraboo’s Silver Drive.

The future homeowners are working together to construct their own houses from the ground up.

“We oversee it, but families apply, and they need to qualify, and they take out a loan from USDA Rural Development,” said Wendy Schneider, the project director with Habitat.

The program is available to low- to moderate-income families. In return for the many hours of sweat equity they spend building their homes, they can purchase their houses at a reduced price. They also enjoy low, fixed interest rates and aren’t required to make a down payment. By the time construction is done, they’ll end up with more than $20,000 worth of equity in their homes, Schneider said.

Roger Beers, a carpenter who serves as the project’s construction superintendent, has been overseeing and instructing the families in the skills and techniques they need to get the job done.

“The families do all the work themselves except for stuff that is skilled or you need a license for,” Beers said, noting that electrical, plumbing, heating and drywall work are contracted out.

“We’re behind because we had such a cold winter, long winter, and then we had two months of tropical rainstorms,” Beers said with a laugh.

All five homes will need to be finished before anyone can move in, Beers said.

Dalicia and Jordan Kufner, 24 and 23, were working on their future home Saturday. They read about the program on a flyer at the laundromat.

“We were actually looking at houses,” said Dalicia Kufner. “We were going to try and get a loan and stuff, but we didn’t have any credit, so we figured we would try this.”

They are excited about creating a safe, special place to raise their son, Jayovanni, 1, and daughter, Jenesis, who was born in June.

“I’ve already picked out which rooms are going to be my kids’,” she said.

The young family has never undertaken a project quite so big before.

“It’s a lot of work,” Dalicia Kufner said. “You don’t really think about what goes into building a house until you actually do it.”

Jordan Kufner works a full-time job on top of building onto the home every Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

“What made me want to do it was pretty much for my kids to grow up in a house that their parents built by their hands, to give them a place to live, a place they can call home,” he said.

Heather and Bill Kowalke, 32 and 38, respectively, also sought out the program to make a better life for their family. The couple was working on the Kufners’ home Saturday.

The Kowalke family has outgrown its current three-bedroom house and needs more space for Javelin, 4; Will, 8; Talon, 11; and Jacksen, 15.

“(There’s) not a lot of room to grow,” said Heather Kowalke, adding that the new house will have five bedrooms.

Heather Kowalke said it’s neat to see how things come together on a construction project.

“I’ve done miscellaneous home improvements but nothing of this magnitude,” she said.

The Kowalkes will break ground on their new home next week. They heard about the program at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Heather Kowalke said on the very first day at the site, she was up for the challenge.

“We’ve only been doing this since the end of July, but in that short period of time, you learn a lot. You learn the hard way first, but then you start to learn the tricks,” she said, adding that Beers has been an exceptional teacher.

She is excited about living near the people she has come to know well through the construction projects.

“It’ll actually be nice to know your neighbors,” she said.

Schneider said she has been inspired by the camaraderie displayed in the neighborhood already.

“They’re forming community,” she said. “It’s really neat.”

Habitat will oversee a similar project in Reedsburg next year. Selection of those families is currently underway. For more information, visit www.hfhsca.org or call 448-2888. Informational meetings will be held at the Reedsburg Public Library at 6:30 p.m. today and Tuesday, Sept. 24.

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