Mother of three builds own home, with some help

Irregular | December 23, 2009

A little over 18 months ago, Kelly Lord felt that her life had hit bottom and she had little hope that it would improve.

The young mother of three had just ended an eight-year relationship and was faced with raising her family alone. Employed part-time, she was living paycheck to paycheck while trying to feed and house her children. Fear for their future consumed her as she drove home to the drafty, mouse-infested rental trailer that she could barely afford. At just 30 years of age, Lord felt lost and defeated.

That all changed, as they say, in a blink of an eye. Brushing away tears as she drove home, Lord switched on the radio in time to hear an advertisement for the Self-Help Housing Program run by Community-Concepts of Maine. The ad said “Are you tired of paying rent and never getting ahead? Have you dreamed of owning your own home? “But have been turned down at the bank? If you have answered “Yes” to any of these questions, call Community-Concepts; we may be able to help you realize your dream.” As if the advertisement was written for her, it poked a hole in Lord’s desperation and hope streamed in.

Lord called the number from the ad and spoke with Susan Bradford, the Self-Help Program administrator at CCI. Bradford explained that through the program, four to six families work together as a team under the guidance of CCI to build their own three-bedroom homes. CCI provides the tools, construction education and supervision, and the families provide two days of labor each week. By helping to build their own homes, families save up to $20,000 and they never make a payment during construction. Most often families that participate in the Self-Help program build their homes on weekends, but they can work during the week if everyone agrees.

Having been turned down by the bank several times before Lord was afraid that CCI’s program was too good to be true. But having nothing to lose, she completed the application with Bradford who “was so helpful,” Lord said, “she helped fill out all the paperwork and walked me through it step by step, every bit of the way!”

A few short weeks later, Lord got the news she had only dreamt about –-she had been approved for a Self-Help House loan. By donating her time and labor she and her children could be in home of their own in a few short months!

After the initial excitement wore off, Lord got scared that she might not be able to participate in the program. Her children would need day care while she was helping to build her home and she had a job that required her to work every other weekend. When Lord shared her fears with Bradford at CCI, Bradford encouraged Lord to talk with her family and her employer about the Self-Help and the opportunity that it provided Lord to own a brand new, energy-efficient home. Not surprisingly, when she explained how the Self-Help program would improve her life and that of her children, she received nothing but support. Lord’s family pitched in to help with the care of her kids while her employer gave her every weekend off so that she could help build her home.

Over the next 11 months Lord and five other families spent weekends working on each other’s houses. They became great friends, and in many cases “even closer than family”; a tight knit group that threw birthday parties together, supported each other at funerals, and attended the births of each others babies. They became a team that worked together to build each others’ homes and nurture each others dreams.

On Nov. 21 the long days and hard work paid off. Lord and her three children moved into their three-bedroom house on a private 1+ acre lot in South Paris, Maine —just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas under a roof of their own.

As Lord looks back on the Self-Help program, the happiness she feels radiates from her face while a look of awe and disbelief still shines in her eyes. At 32 she has created a life for her and her children that she only dreamt about –-and she did it as a single parent with a limited income. Each month she will pay less for her house and heat than she paid to rent a drafty trailer, and her children will have a safe, warm and clean home. And having done a lot of the work on her home (with the help of her Self- Help teammates), Lord has about $20,000 in equity already.

When asked how the CCI Self-Help program has changed her life, her answer is simple. She says most of all, it will change her children’s lives. From now on they will say “look what mommy did,” and “if she can do it, I can do it.” From now on they will have the confidence to pursue their dreams and make a life for themselves that is full of promise.

CCI and USDA-Rural Development are currently working with Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust and the PARC Foundation to provide Self-Help housing opportunities in the Rangeley Region. RLHT is helping with local promotion and outreach and CCI is providing all of the technical support. If you would like more information on the Self- Help program in Rangeley and how Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust is helping to promote workforce housing opportunities in the Rangeley region, contact Rebecca Kurtz at 864-7311, ext 5. For information about qualifications for the program or to complete an application, contact Susan Bradford at Community-Concepts of Maine at 739- 6514.

CCI would like to provide a public tour of Self-Help homes built in Oxford County. It is encouraging anyone who is interested in learning about the Self-Help program to attend. The tour will allow folks to look at the homes, talk with the families that built them and learn how the program works. The date of the tour will be determined based on the interest level in the Rangeley region.

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