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Homeowners create a place to call their own

June 10, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

enlargement

Opequon Meadows

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Like many new homeowners, Susan Spong beams with pride as she shows off her new four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the Opequon Meadows subdivision.

She has reason to be proud. Her family and five others built the house - and five others like it - over the last nine months as part of a self-help housing program funded by a local human service agency and the federal government.

"We did all this ourselves - the framing, the doors, cabinets, floors, painting," Spong said. "The only things we didn't do was the plumbing and electrical and a few minor things."

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With an interest rate of only 1 percent, Susan and Floyd Spong Jr. and their three children can afford a house with a porch, ceiling fans and a one-car garage. It's more spacious than the three-bedroom apartment they rented in a Martinsburg housing project for 10 years, and the monthly mortgage payments are about $100 less than the rent was.

"It's been long, hard work but it's worth it," Spong said of the 30 hours each week families are required to work on the houses. "I was just so thrilled we were one of the first families to qualify."

This six-house program is the first mutual self-help project in the state of West Virginia, designed to help low-income families. A family of four must earn less than $33,900 a year to be eligible.

Nationally, 23,880 homes have been built under this self-help program since 1971.

Families contribute labor toward construction of the home and do about 65 percent of the work with a loan to pay for the lot and the materials.

Telamon Corp., a Martinsburg nonprofit human services agency, provides a construction supervisor to teach families how to do the work, manage the material deliveries and subcontract work at the job site.

Rural Housing Service, a federal agency, provides loans for families and grants to reimburse Telamon for management services.

The average loan is $75,000, said James Dlhosh, director of Telamon. The homes are appraised at between $84,000 and $90,000, he said.

"It's sweat equity," Dlhosh said. "They've saved $10,000 to $15,000 on labor. When they move in, they'll have equity in the house of $10,000 to $15,000."

The homes in the Opequon Meadows subdivision should be ready by the end of the month, Dlhosh said.

Work on a new seven-home project is to begin in August or September. There are still three vacancies in that southern Berkeley County subdivision, and no waiting list, Dlhosh said.

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