By Terry Rogers
Milford Housing Development Corporation (MHDC) is celebrating 50 years of helping people achieve the dream of homeownership. The program is funded by USDA Rural Development and has helped more than 200 families through the Self-Help Housing Program.
Cynthia Williams went through the housing program in 2001 and said she worked several jobs while she and a team of other homeowners worked together to build their houses. Ms. Williams said that there were seven families in her team and together they built seven houses, doing all of the work on weekends.
“The hardest part of the entire process was not having any time off while I was building my house,” Ms. Williams said. “I had nine days off for the entire year we were building. Most of us were single mothers so this took time away from our kids, but it was worth it.” Dave Szumski, Homeownership Manager for MHDC, said that people who enter the program do 65 percent of the labor to build their home and they must agree to work on the homes every Saturday, Sunday and Monday evening.
Ms. Williams said that anyone considering joining the program should volunteer a few weekends before they agree to join. Mr. Szumski said that volunteering before signing up is now required as they want the homeowner to understand the sweat equity that is required. The homeowner agrees to not only build their home, but homes for the rest of the team as well. Normally, teams consist of five families, which means that each homeowner works together to build five houses.
“These people end up being lifelong friends of yours,” said Ms. Williams. “You work together because no one can move in until all of the houses are completed, so you want them done as quickly as possible.” Ms. Williams said that she had just recently paid her home off after being in the house only 14 years. She said she was able to do that by keeping her debt low and refinancing to get a lower rate which enabled her to pay her house off 16 years early.
Ms. Williams said that a homeowner entering the program needs to have the want to own their own home, not necessarily the skill.
“Skills can be taught,” Ms. Williams said. “You can’t teach want and desire. If you don’t want this with all your being, you won’t succeed in this program.” Mr. Szumski said that he had never had a homeowner drop out of the program after they had agreed to join, but had seen homeowners decide not to sign up after volunteering over a weekend or two. Many of them reported that the work was “too hard” and that they were not sure they could give up their weekends for a year or more to accomplish the task.
Ms. Williams said that she had always had good credit as her father had instilled a need to keep credit scores high from a young age. Therefore, she had no problems qualifying for a mortgage or refinancing when she was ready. However, Mr. Szumski said that not all applicants are in as good shape financially as Ms. Williams.
“When someone decides to enter the program, they must go through an orientation session,” Mr. Szumski explained. “The orientation takes about an hour but it walks them through the entire process. They are asked to bring a $16 money order to the orientation to pay for a credit report and then are given an appointment the following week. At the follow-up appointment, we go through the credit report and advise them on what to do to clean up their credit. About 80 percent of the people we work with spend three months to more than a year repairing their credit in order to get the score where it needs to be to apply for a mortgage.”
Ms. Williams said before she built her house, she had very little construction knowledge. Since building not only her house but also helping six other families build their homes, she felt like she could accomplish anything. She went back to school to advance her education and has since started a part-time business building custom-made chicken houses. She is building one in the shape of a John Deere Tractor to enter into the Delaware State Fair.
“I also recently helped a friend build her own home as well,” Ms. Williams said. “She had some credit problems and I helped her fix those. Then I helped her with her house as they were building. I would never have been able to do that without Milford Housing.”
Mr. Szumski said that MHDC is planning several events through the month of June to celebrate their 50 year anniversary, starting off with Homeownership Day on Monday, June 8.