GREAT FALLS - NeighborWorks Great Falls hosted an event earlier this week to celebrate 10 families who are building their homes from the ground up — literally.
The "Dream Street" event was on the 2000 block of 22nd Avenue South, with the soon-to-be-homeowners, family, members, construction partners, and others celebrating the progress made since the project kicked off in Autumn 2021.
The NeighborWorks Owner-Built Homes program is a part of the national Mutual Self-Help Housing program, which is funded by USDA Rural Development. Qualified buyers earn “sweat equity” that make their home affordable. One core piece of the program is that no family can move in until all 10 homes are complete.
"The homes that will be finished this year will make 165 homes in our community that have been built by their owners," NeighborWorks Great Falls director Sherrie Arey said. "The collaboration that is needed by USDA Rural Development, Cascade County, the City of Great Falls really helps this program stay alive and help people who have been hardworking renters become owners."
Raine Elwood has made significant progress with her home. With walls painted and rooms near completion, she described the feeling of officially being a homeowner within the next few months.
"It's amazing. My husband is a veteran, and we rent. A lot of opportunities, we have not had because we were low income, but what NeighborWorks and the USDA do is qualify us, so it's a wonderful opportunity," Elwood said.
"There are 10 houses total and all that is here when we begin are the foundations. I remember the first thing I learned to do was tar my foundation. We all build together. There are 10 houses, 10 families — and we build together until all ten are completed," Elwood explained. "No one can move in, and then at the same time, it's building community. So it's an amazing blessing."
NeighborWorks director of construction Keith Nelson — who knows these builders well — said that despite some of the challenges and obstacles that come with building homes, it is a major accomplishment to see these new houses brought to a community valuing dedication and persistence.
"You got to remember, these people have their own jobs and they work 40 hours a week and then they come up here and bring volunteers and work some evenings and weekends," Nelson said. "So they put a lot of extra time in. So it's basically that year that they're building, they give their life to this, you know, there's no vacations, there's no time off. They just — they get in there and get it done."
"It couldn't be possible without the help of each other. The owner-built program collaboration is essential. Ten homeowners start together, finish together," Arey noted. "They have to work blood, sweat, and tears for a year to 14 months, building their own home, so they have to work, learn to work together."
To date, more than 150 homes have been built in Great Fall through the program. To learn more, visit the NeighborWorks website.