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Homeowners nail down a dream

Chandler Morrison, foreground, of Oakley gets help from volunteer Pete Kowanko as she constructs a home through a progam that assists low-income families.
Chandler Morrison, foreground, of Oakley gets help from volunteer Pete Kowanko as she constructs a home through a progam that assists low-income families.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

On most afternoons, Chandler Morrison can be found on a hillside in Oakley hanging drywall and pouring concrete for what will soon be a five-bedroom, three-bathroom home. As she straps on her tool belt, the 22-year-old Oakley native talks excitedly about working until the sun goes down to finish laying the floorboards.

With all that enthusiasm, it's hard to tell that the house is not even hers. Actually, Morrison is just helping to finish her neighbor's house while her own home waits for a shipment of roof supports.

Morrison is one of six low-income families who are getting a shot at home ownership from the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust in Summit County. The program helps the families get into a home through a combination of subsidized federal loans and a lot of hard work.

Each family must work 30 hours a week on the home, some of which can be done for them by volunteers. There's also one other condition: No one can move in until all six houses are finished.

"It's essentially a good old-fashioned barn raising," said Pete Kowanko, who volunteered to help one of the soon-to-be homeowners complete her weekly hours.

Although the time commitment and the workload are strenuous, general contractor Shawn Wiest said the families are willing to do the work because they would probably not be able to afford a home on their own. To qualify for the program, the six families could not make more than 80 percent of the median income for the area.

"There just aren't too many home ownership opportunities for these people," Wiest said.

Scott Loomis, executive director of Mountainlands, said that the hard work will pay off for the homeowners because they only had to get a $140,000 construction loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture but will build a home worth about $220,000.

"They end up with quite a home. They are more than just starter homes. This is a place they can live for a while," Loomis said.

For Laci Lewis, 22, home ownership seemed like a far-off dream before she found the Mountainlands housing program. Lewis, her husband and their 3-year-old son have been renting for years because they could not afford a house down payment.

"I think with building our own house, we'll appreciate it more with all the work we've done," Lewis said.

Morrison turned to the Mountainlands program after house hunting on her own and finding she could not afford to buy the kind of home she wanted in Oakley. Though finding the time to work on the house is hard, Morrison said it's worth it not only because of the money she's saving, but also because of the ownership she now feels.

"To have something that is my own that I built — that's powerful to me," she said. "At the end of the day, you can look back and say, look what I did."

Morrison started building her home earlier this summer, but many of the other homes are still in the digging and foundation stage. Construction moves slowly, Morrison said, because Wiest is the only professional construction manager overseeing the project. The families are essentially left to figure out how to put the houses together as they go along, she said.

"It's OK because I'm a pretty take-it-on-and-do-it kind of girl. We all used my house as the guinea pig house," Morrison said.

Morrison usually spends two 12-hour days and several evenings working on the homes. Since she is single, Morrison said she has to finish most of her work hours by herself and occasionally has a family member volunteer to do some of her 30 weekly hours.

Real estate agents at Park City's Coldwell Banker are chipping in their time as well to help the six families meet their hour requirements. Starting Sept. 11, the agents volunteered a total of 25 hours a month to the home-building project.

"These are six families that otherwise wouldn't have homes. We're able to give back to the community and provide housing for these people," said Steve Webber of Coldwell Banker. "To see the families and the smiles on their faces as they build their dream home is just wonderful."