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Applicants locate homes through self-help program


By SCOTT LILES The Baxter Bulletin

GASSVILLE -- Nancy Neaves cannot wait to become Gassville's newest resident.

Neaves, 58, is participating in the federal government's Mutual Self-Help Housing Program and will eventually own a two-bedroom house on Walnut Street in Gassville. The program is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development division, and is managed locally by the Northwest Regional Housing Authority.

Officials with both Rural Development and the Northwest Regional Housing Authority -- along with representatives of state, county and local government -- gathered last month on Walnut Street for a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony on Neaves' house in honor of National Homeowners Month, the Baxter Bulletin reported.

The Self-Help Program requires applicants to put in about 600 hours of labor into their future homes. That labor is dependent on what the applicant can do, said Vickey Stratton, the program's director for the Northwest Regional Housing Authority.

"Work can be anything from mowing to painting to just general upkeep on their home as we go through the construction phases," she said. "If people have disabilities, we work within their individual basis to find out what works for them."

Neaves' house, which is expected to be completed this winter, will be fully handicap-accessible with wider doors, a walk-in shower and no steps between the garage to the house.

"It's going to be totally ADA-accessible for me, which is beautiful," said Neaves, who presently lives in a senior apartment complex in Cotter.

The Northwest Regional Housing Authority is located in Harrison, and its Self-Help Program is available in 12 counties across northern Arkansas. It presently has eight houses under construction, Stratton said.

The program offers clients a 33-year home loan with a present interest rate of 3.75 percent, Stratton said. No down payment is required for the program, and the housing authority has an in-house credit counselor that can help potential homeowners work through any credit problems they might have.

The program does have income guidelines, which vary by county.

"It's best to contact our office to find out what those income guidelines are," Stratton said. "We're there to help you."

Neaves' future home marks the eighth self-help home built recently in the Gassville community.

"This program started about 5 years ago, and it's been really good," Mayor Jeff Braim said. "It's good quality housing. We're happy to see people live their dreams out with new houses."

Neaves said she first heard of the program from a neighbor at the apartment complex.

"He knew neither one of us were apartment people," she said.

Neaves said the housing authority checked her assets and credit score as part of the application process. Once the paperwork was completed, she attended several interviews before being approved for the program.

"You meet some really nice people in the interviews," she said.

Neaves described the program as "a blessing," and encouraged others to consider applying.

"Absolutely, take the blessing. It's a gift," she said. "It's independence, it's responsibility. It's accessibility if they're disabled. It's a sense of pride and self-worth."