STANWOOD — Kayla and Doug Standish recently moved into a brand-new home. The house has three bedrooms, abundant natural light and enough room for their kids to play.
For the down payment, they used “sweat equity.”
The Standishes and eight other families built their own neighborhood in Stanwood. They spent 32 hours per week — on top of full-time jobs — to build the houses. It took 16 months, but the new homeowners finally picked up their keys in December.
“We busted our butts to get here,” Kayla Standish said.
Housing Hope’s Team HomeBuilding Program, a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allows people to build and buy homes in rural areas. Those in the program provide labor instead of a down payment. Monthly mortgage payments start after move-in day.
Housing Hope has helped 320 Snohomish County families build houses through the program since 1992. Nationally, the program has helped more than 50,000 families build homes since the 1970s.
Tanya Ward, the Team HomeBuilding program manager, said some homeowners are now second-generation builders. They grew up in houses their parents built through the program.
“The majority of the people stay in their houses a long, long time,” Ward said. “They build a community.”
The Standishes said the stability of homeownership is a huge relief. After renting apartments in Everett, Marysville and a couple duplexes in Lake Stevens, they’re ready to stop moving.
“Rent isn’t going to go up by $200 next month,” Kayla Standish said. “No one is going to say, ‘Actually, we’re going to sell the unit you’re in and you have 28 days to go.’ It will be nice to look at our finances and know what’s certain.”
Households must earn at least $53,000 to qualify for the program. They also need two years of stable work history and at least a credit score of 640.
“I love what I do and I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Doug Standish, who is the teen development director for a YMCA branch. “But I couldn’t buy a house in Snohomish County with what we make.”
The maximum amount households can earn depends on family size, but it cannot exceed 80% of the area median income. A Snohomish County family of four, for example, cannot earn more than $90,500. A one-person household cannot earn more than $63,350. Ward said roughly half of the program applicants are families and half are single adults.
The Team HomeBuilding Program constructs houses in rural Snohomish County, including north of Marysville and east of Highway 9. The program builds about 10 homes per year but has a wait list of at least 60 households at any given time.
Kayla and Doug Standish were on the list for eight years, waiting for the right location. Kayla Standish’s parents bought their home through a similar program in King County.
“That’s the house I grew up in,” Kayla Standish said.
Housing Hope assembles groups of five to 10 households to build each neighborhood. The program doesn’t require construction experience, but no one is allowed to move in until all the homes are complete. A full-time construction supervisor helps people build the houses.
Doug Standish worked in construction for a while but had never built an entire house.
“I had the basic skills for this type of thing, but I had never applied them in this way before,” Doug Standish said.
Kayla Standish said most of her neighbors didn’t have prior construction experience. They learned as they went. She’s looking forward to getting to know them as neighbors, rather than builders, she said.
“Next fall,” Kayla Standish said, “I have a dream that we’re going to race derby cars down the hill and get hay bales at the bottom.”
Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.