Southern Delaware neighbors build homes for each other [video]

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 Amanda West works inside the home she's helping to build for her family in Georgetown. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Amanda West works inside the home she's helping to build for her family in Georgetown. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A group of low income Sussex County residents team up to build homes for each other.

For low income Delaware residents, the struggle to find for affordable housing can be daunting. In Sussex County, the median home price is around $240,000, which can make buying a home unattainable for many.

That’s why a group of Sussex County residents are taking matters – and tools – into their own hands, building each other’s homes themselves.

One of the amateur builders in the group is Amanda West, a mother of three. “I’m not an outside girl. I like to stay inside away from the bugs,” West said. After nearly a year of building, she now swings a hammer like a pro. She’s working with Milford Housing Development Corporation to build her own home, along with the homes of four others in her group.

“It’s a lot of work that goes into it, it’s not easy,” West said.

West and the others have all signed on to the shared-build program. With the help of a construction manager, the group has pledged to build five homes, one for each member over little more than a year. And that’s in addition to holding full-time jobs

“They are putting 65 percent of the labor into their homes,” said Russ Huxtable, COO of Milford Housing Development Corp. “They’re putting in work on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, and they don’t have a day off.”

Building the homes takes long hours of hard work and heavy lifting, but for West and the others, it’s worth it. “This is something that I needed to do for me and my kids, so I was like, ‘Suck it up, and get out there,’ and I learned a lot.”

While professionals do the electrical wiring and plumbing installation, the future homeowners do the bulk of the work. They’ve framed walls, installed shingles, and invested a lot of sweat into their new homes.

“The average sweat equity that our families are seeing is close to $35,000, that’s a full time wage for a year,” Huxtable said. For most participants, that’s more than they make in a year, and they earn that much home value by building part time on the homes.

Families making 80 percent and below median income in a rural area may qualify for the program. In Delaware, that includes just about all of Sussex and Kent Counties, except for Dover. MHDC puts a special focus on helping those making even less. “Fifty percent of our clients have been under 50 percent of median income,” Huxtable said.

The program is funded through a rural development grant from the Department of Agriculture. Over the past 50 years, 50,000 homes have been built this way, nationwide. Since 1996, MHDC has helped neighbors build nearly 200 homes.

For West and her three children, this home near Georgetown will soon replace the two bedroom apartment they’re currently living in. “It’s a nice place, but I need something because they’re getting older, we need to spread out,” West said.

She hopes her work on their new home is an inspiration for her children and others. “I’m hoping that 30, 40 years from now, my kids, they’ll be happy with the work that I’ve done, and they’d want to go out and help other people do the same thing.”

Anyone who meets income eligibility requirements can apply on the MHDC website, MilfordHousing.com.

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