“If you have ever thought about owning a home in Moab, now is the time to get on our list!”
That’s the message from Community Rebuilds, a Moab-based nonprofit dedicated to building affordable, sustainable housing while providing construction education and experience for homeowners and program interns.
The program depends on aspiring homeowners qualifying for a federal loan. The loan’s income limits have changed, so would-be homeowners who thought their income was too high to qualify might want to take another look.
Using rural development loans offered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Community Rebuilds is able to help Moab area residents with “low” or “very low” incomes, as determined by the USDA, build and buy an energy-efficient straw-bale home.
Usually, two teams of interns per year are recruited from across the country and beyond to learn about sustainable building while donating their labor to construct each home.
“Community Rebuilds is a one-of-a-kind pro bono developer,” said Rikki Epperson, executive director of the nonprofit. The organization, she said, provides free construction labor and management, loan processing, construction documents and home plans, and bookkeeping services. “These services reduce the construction cost by nearly half,” she said.
The new income thresholds are based on local median income levels updated yearly by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. For the Moab area, those are now $59,300 per year for a household of one to four people to qualify as “low income” and $37,050 per year for a household of one to four people to qualify as “very low income,” according to USDA information.
The raised thresholds will open opportunities for home-ownership to more people. Epperson said this adjustment is not rare—she’s seen the limits raised around a dozen times in the six years she’s worked with Community Rebuilds—but the organization is especially keen to inform the community of the increase this year because they plan to increase the number of homes they build for the next two years to eight per year.
Epperson said Community Rebuilds aims to serve 60% low- and 40% very-low-income clients. The minimum income required to qualify for the program will depend on the price of the property where the home will be built.
Community Rebuilds will soon begin homes located in the Arroyo Crossing development, which is owned by the Moab Area Community Land Trust. The Trust will maintain those properties at affordable prices, giving lower-income Community Rebuilds applicants a chance to afford a home.
Epperson emphasized that the calculation of income in the context of USDA loans can have many qualifiers, so she encourages people who are unsure if they qualify to apply and find out.
“Each income type has a different calculation formula,” said Epperson. For example, if you work seasonally, or own your own business, or do freelance work, the USDA calculation might produce a different value than you expect.
“If you’re anywhere in the ballpark, don’t assume—come talk to us and let us tell you where you’re at,” Epperson said.
Other Community Rebuilds news
Community Rebuilds has been adapting as the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded. When public health officials began issuing restrictive orders in March, the organization opted to send home their 2020 spring volunteers, rather than continue housing them in a group bunkhouse and asking them to work closely on the construction site. Construction on spring 2020 homes continues using a reduced workforce of paid staff, homeowners, and homeowners’ family and close friends.
“If anybody wants to get a taste of what it's like to build a house with us, we’re trying to come up with a safe way to do that,” said Epperson. Community members who would like to volunteer, particularly in the plastering stage, can call the office at 435-260-0501 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The two homes built during the fall 2019 semester were finally finished and celebrated with a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 18. Brian Beachum and couple Didar and Anthony Charles are ready to move into their new homes.
These houses, the 31st and 32nd homes completed by the program, are the first Community Rebuilds homes designed to meet the criteria of the “Living Building Challenge,” a certification for buildings that meet strict standards of efficiency and sustainability.
Looking ahead, Epperson reported that Community Rebuilds will also soon be able to offer a new home layout designed by Kenny Fallon, who volunteers as a planning and development VISTA intern. Fallon is working on new floor plans and roof silhouettes, and considering adding a porch to the new design.
As Community Rebuilds continues to carry out its mission, Epperson foresees continued challenges related to the pandemic.
“It’s hard to tell how the loan processing might go with all the income changing this year,” she said, noting that restrictions and shut-downs have caused many workers to lose hours, income, or employment altogether.
Epperson isn’t sure when she’ll feel comfortable inviting a new team of interns to travel to Moab, but she says absolutely not in 2020. She and the Community Rebuilds board will continue to evaluate the situation before deciding about spring of 2021.
“Students, we want you back as soon as the world tells us it’s safe,” Epperson said.