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Young family's solution to housing costs: Do the work yourself

Editor's note: This vignette is part of a two-day look at the problems emerging from the popularity of Utah's national parks, and solutions to help nearby communities.

MOAB — Brian Hines knew his state government job didn't pay him the kind of salary he needed to buy a decent home for his wife, Laura, and their two children.

The family was tired of renting, however, and the path to homeownership seemed at a dead end, with prices of typical Moab houses eclipsing $300,000 — well beyond the young family's reach.

The Hines' learned about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Self Help program, which allows homeowners to save money and earn "sweat equity" by completing the majority of the labor on a new house.

"It was the best way to get a house in Moab that we can afford," he said.

Brian Hines worked in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as a wildlife biologist, but the special project came to an end. When a job with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources became available in the Moab area, he jumped at it.

"We came from Jackson Hole, so we were not too surprised at the high cost of housing," he said. But the rental market wasn't much better, with a majority of the decent homes snapped up as short-term rentals to cater to the tourist crowd.

Second homes and investment property ownership accounts for 20 percent of the housing stock in Grand County, according to community development director Zacharia Levine, and the amount of housing hasn't kept pace with demand.

The Hineses weren't sure what they were getting into.

The construction supervisor assigned to work with them and oversee the 30 hours of work required each week was blunt about the difficulty of what lay ahead.

"He told us it is going to be hard, that we were going to want to quit, and he was right," Laura Hines said.

Brian Hines said they'd start in the morning at 8 and often not finish until late in the evening well past 11.

They laid tile, did all the interior framing, built the stairs, put in lights and installed floors. Their children watched movies in a bedroom closet while they put in the kitchen floor.

"But the construction supervisor also told us that when we got tired to remember that it was only for eight months," she said. "You can stand anything for eight months."

This fall, the family is readying to spend their first Halloween, their first Thanksgiving, their first Christmas in this home where they will gather around the counter with Charlie, 6, and Clara, 4, for reading, coloring and other activities.

"We are making it work, " she said. "Our mortgage is cheaper than the rentals, and we can look at this and know what we put into it."

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