PORT ORCHARD — New homeowners who haven’t even had the experience of building a birdhouse are seeing their homeownership dreams come true, thanks to Housing Kitsap’s innovative mutual self-help program.

The program, which has existed in Kitsap County since 1973, is funded by a USDA low-interest home loan program in which mortgage payments are based on a household’s income. Applicants must have good credit and a stable income, said Breanna Littrell, marketing and outreach specialist at Housing Kitsap.

It’s a new way for prospective homeowners to enter a tough real estate market, Littrell said. But if they are allowed to participate in the program, they must make a long-term commitment – ​​an agreement to devote up to 35 hours a week to sweat equity to help build their new home and other members. of their building group over a period of approximately 14 month period.

“We deliberately build neighborhoods where you walk past and never know,” she said of the housing program.

A handful of mutual self-help neighborhoods comprising 44 homes are being built in Kitsap and Mason counties. A nearby ongoing project is the Sherman Ridge neighborhood on Melcher Street in Port Orchard.

Located in a quiet neighborhood just down Pottery Avenue, the project was split into three building groups, said site supervisor Chris Evertz. The first group of houses was completed in August, and the houses in the middle and front of the development were completed in mid-May. A third construction group is currently under construction.

Home plans range from 1,200 to 1,400 square feet with two to four bedrooms, the most common being a three-bedroom, 2 or 2½ bath layout. Although simple in design, homes in the neighborhood are quality in design and appearance that would likely value around $450,000, Evertz said.

Evertz said owners do about 65% of the construction work, with subcontractors – usually supervising plumbers and electricians – doing the rest.

Learn on the go

Homeowners-turned-builders work a fast schedule, he said, and learn the basics of construction in no time.

“Ninety percent of our owners probably haven’t picked up a hammer,” said Evertz, who is also a general contractor. “It’s a pretty quick workout and you really learn on the fly. The owners participate in almost everything that is done here.

Novice builders handle aspects of construction including framing walls, lifting and securing roof trusses, installing windows, fitting doors, adding interior trim and cleaning end of the day. Home framing packages are pre-cut, laid out and numbered, he said, reducing the need for supervision on weekends and evenings.

“These are tasks they all have to do,” he said. “What’s interesting is that everyone has this certain skill that they discover in the process. It can take about 10 months to find it, but we always end up finding something they excel at.

Overall, Evertz said, the owners’ efforts have been admirable.

“When I started here, I thought their work ethic might fade once their house was built, but it didn’t.”

The commitment owners make can be daunting to some – it involves hard work that consumes every spare moment over 14 months, often carried out in rainy and windy winter conditions. And that commitment continues beyond the completion of their own home – no one moves in until the last of the eight homes in their building group is complete. But homeowners can get help from family and friends who volunteer to do their own work.

“The dedication from every owner is incredible,” Littrell said. “They give a year of their life to do this. It’s a commitment that each owner puts in over 1,700 hours during construction.

The Housing Kitsap outreach specialist should know this – she is a landlord who has taken part in the program before.

There are other requirements prospective owners must meet, she said. “They must have sufficient income, credit and work history. But for those who are still working to their credit or just starting a job, we work with them. It’s a process.

And there’s a waiting list – Littrell said some applicants have to wait up to 2.5 years in this boiling housing market.

“Port Orchard has been the hot ticket,” she said of the South Kitsap property market. “I don’t know why, but I love it. It has such a hometown feel.

To withdraw an application, visit housingkitsap.org/becoming-a-homeowner.

Housing Kitsap Marketing and Outreach Specialist Breanna Littrell (left) and Site Supervisor Chris Evertz help homeowners through the process of registering for Mutual Self-Help Housing. (Bob Smith | Kitsap News Group)

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