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Housing in reach for some low-income families in area

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ozark group offers to build homes for 12 area low-income families

Owning a home is a dream that a few residents in Fulton and Izard counties may become a reality.

Roberta White, self-help housing manager at Ozark Opportunities, said her organization is offering to build houses for 12 low-income families in Fulton and Izard counties.

Ozark Opportunities is a not-for-profit organization, based in Harrison, that provides low income families with assistance to pay their utility bills and other expenses.

"I think it's one of the best programs I've been involved with," said White, a 28-year veteran with Ozark Opportunities.

White will take applications for the houses June 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. inside the Orange Room at the North Arkansas Electrical Co-op in Salem.

To qualify, applicants must meet certain income guidelines and have good credit.

"There are some blemishes on their credit report that we can work through if there's a problem," White said.

After being selected, each family will meet with White's construction supervisor to determine what kind of house the family needs.

She said they typically build 3-bedroom, 2-bath houses with two-car garages. The average house is 1,300 square feet.

Plans for different types of houses were provided by the state but were modified by Aerial Designs, an architecture firm based in Mountain Home.

The houses are not free. White said each recipient receives a low-interest, 33-year rural-development loan to pay for the house and the land it sits on.

The constructions supervisor collects the plans, tools and other materials needed to build the house, White said.

A recipient's sweat pays the down payment.

"We require them to work 700 hours on the construction of their own home," White said. "This gives them a sense of entitlement, brings the overhead costs down and lets them have pride in what's being accomplished."

The required labor hours can be worked by the recipient or his friends and family.

She said families usually work on their houses at night and on weekends.

"I have been totally impressed with these houses," White said. "They are nice homes."

She said the average cost of one of these houses is approximately $80,000.

The organization covers Boone, Baxter, Searcy, Marion and Van Buren counties.

White said Ozark Opportunities is extending its housing services to Fulton and Izard counties because there weren't enough applicants in their coverage area.

She said her plan is to build four houses in each county and then build the remaining four in whichever area needs them the most. The low-income housing project began last year in Baxter County, White said.

"We were given the okay to build 18 houses over there," White said.

The first four houses are nearing completion, she said. If enough qualified applicants are found in Fulton and Izard counties construction could begin in the fall.

"The weather has a lot to do with how quickly these houses are built," White said. "If it hadn't been so wet last fall we would be finishing eight houses instead of four."

White, who put flyers up in Fulton and Izard counties, said she has been receiving calls from interested parties in both counties.

"It's the American dream," White said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to help a few people realize it."

For more information persons can contact White at 870-425-5129 or apply inside the Northeast Arkansas Electric Coop June 23.

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