|Apr 01, 2014 --
Rural Development’s Mutual Self Help Housing Program puts families in homes through a combination of homebuilding expertise, public and private support, and a ton of good, old-fashioned hard work on the part of the families themselves.
In western Montana, the Missoula Housing Authority and NeighborWorks Montana teamed up with USDA Rural Development to build ten affordable homes in a subdivision about five miles west of town. Homeowners in Rural Development’s Mutual Self Help program are expected to provide 30 hours per week of work on the project, whether by themselves or through friends and family. This reduces the cost of construction while teaching homeowners many of the skills necessary to maintain a home.
In the span of just three years, Christy Milburn and her two young children lived in fifty-five different places. A couple weeks on a couch here, stay in a spare room there, and by 2006 – she had run out of friends and couches. As a homeless single mother in Montana, Christy came to Missoula to once again try to get her life back on track. A string of bad luck and regrettable personal decisions had put her in a position she didn’t want to face, yet didn’t know how to escape.
“I would take my kids out for a walk, just for something to do,” said Christy. “We’d be walking down a street and I’d see a family inside their home – behind that picture window – and I’d wonder if I could ever get my life straightened out, and find that stability to just live in the same place for more than a few weeks.”
With the help and guidance from the Missoula Housing Authority, and the resources available for families in need through a number of State, Federal, and private organizations, Christy began the long climb out. She took financial classes and cleaned up her credit. She was able to get a full-time job and some assistance in finding a rental home she could afford. Then she heard about USDA Rural Development’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, and that applications were being accepted for the very first project in Missoula County.
During the build, Christy had put in over 1,000 hours just by herself while holding down her full-time job with the flooring center; and raising her two children, now teenagers. At the open house gathering ceremony, Christy spoke to the nearly 100 people in attendance. With her voice cracking, she said “I am proof that if you work hard, you can overcome. When I was homeless, I wanted that stability that I saw on my walks. Now I’m that family.”
She got her window, too.