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Nailing down home costs: Program helping low-income families

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 17, 2007

If you can make rent, you probably can make mortgage payments.


It’s the down payment that’s a problem.


Megan Scheunemann attacked hers with a nail gun.


Scheunemann, 34, is a client of the Burlington-based Southeast Wisconsin Housing Corp. Since 1970, the organization has offered the Self-Help Opportunity Program to help families with low or very low incomes own homes.


Friday, she was scheduled to move into a brand-new, split-level home she built herself on East Street in Clinton.


“I never believed I could do it. I thought it would end up crooked, or there’d be stuff falling off. But it’s beautiful,” Scheunemann said, gesturing at her laminate floors, stainless appliances and landscaping she did herself.


“I don’t say this very often, but I’m proud of myself.”


Through Self-Help, people do most of the construction work on their own homes. Scheunemann, a Clinton native and mother of three, was one of a group of five who have been building homes in Clinton, Sharon and Delavan since July. All five families worked on all five homes.


The program requires 30 work hours a week, but Scheunemann said she put in closer to 40.


“All my spare time I spent out here,” Scheunemann said.


Southeast Wisconsin Housing Corp. has two workers who lead clients in the building process. No matter how inexperienced a client is with a hammer, they’re expected to do everything from roofing to flooring.


“Every time I had to learn something new, I was scared I couldn’t do it,” Scheunemann said. “The first time I used the nail gun, I’d pound one nail, then look around to see if anyone was looking. By the end of the week, I was a pro.”


Learning all those new skills does wonders for one’s self-esteem, Scheunemann said.


She and her fiancé had picked out a new TV for the house, and the clerk asked if she needed it installed.


“My fiancé just said, ‘Baby, you built the house,’” Scheunemann said. “I don’t think you need anyone to put your TV in for you.”)


Self-Help Opportunity Program Q&A


Here are couple common questions and answers about the Self-Help Opportunity Program:


Q: Who can participate?


A: Qualified families make between 50 and 80 percent of a county’s median income. For a Clinton family of four, that translates to $30,600 to $50,150 a year. In Sharon, the range is $31,700 to $51,850.


Q: How does Southeast Wisconsin Housing Corp. make loans affordable?


A: Deputy Director Sue Nielsen uses a variety of state and federal programs to come up with the extra money. The foremost is a mortgage through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program. The interest on the loan can be subsidized down to 1 percent, which keeps payments low.


Families are expected to refinance when their financial situation improves.


Other loans and grants come from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, the Housing Assistance Council and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago.


And physical labor helps. Spending 30 hours a week building homes piles up $12,000 to $15,000 in sweat equity, Nielsen said, which is available as soon as families move into their new homes.


TO LEARN MORE


For more information, call Southeast Wisconsin Housing Corp., 308 Milwaukee Ave., Burlington, at (262) 763-7851 or 1-877-865-1948.



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