‘Sweat equity’ could help families afford homes

2013-01-24T00:00:00Z ‘Sweat equity’ could help families afford homesJesse Duarte Napa Valley Register
January 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Calistoga Affordable Housing is exploring whether “sweat equity” projects could help local families afford a home in the notoriously expensive St. Helena market.

Interested families are invited to attend an informational meeting held by Calistoga Affordable Housing and Our Town St. Helena at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at Hunt’s Grove Apartments, 548 Hunt Ave. in St. Helena. For details, call 942-5920.

Erika Holzhauer from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation will explain the Mutual Self Help Housing program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To qualify, families must have a total income between $34,500 and $86,100 and be willing to dedicate their free time to construction.

With Calistoga Affordable Housing (CAH) supervising construction, prospective homeowners would be called upon to do at least 65 percent of the work. In return, families could qualify for an affordable mortgage.

“There are a lot of long-term renters in St. Helena with good work histories who can qualify for this kind of program,” said Mary Stephenson of Our Town St. Helena, a local affordable housing advocacy group.

There have been at least two sweat equity projects in St. Helena, first in the Lugo Park subdivision off El Bonita Avenue and then in the Voorhees Circle neighborhood. CAH has successfully used “self-help” to develop affordable housing in Calistoga.

It’s still unclear whether that method would be feasible for the first project CAH has undertaken in St. Helena: an eight-unit plan on Pope Street.

CAH has submitted an application to the city, but it’s still incomplete. As plans stand now, the new units would be available for rent. But with some modifications, it might be possible to develop a for-sale project using the sweat equity model, said Larry Kromann, board president of CAH.

“It’s going to come down to financing, which is very difficult right now for any kind of housing,” said Kromann. “For now we just need to get the project moving, and when we get to the financing stage we might have to make some revisions.”

Kromann said CAH is trying to expand its operations into St. Helena, which shares the same basic housing problem as Calistoga: the county’s Agricultural Preserve has driven up land values within the cities and made it exceedingly hard to finance affordable-housing projects.

The Pope Street project stemmed from events in late 2011, when the city red-tagged several illegal units and forced some tenants to vacate on short notice due to serious code violations.

After the illegal units were red-tagged, vintner Larry Turley bought one of the property’s two parcels and donated it to CAH for $1. Meanwhile, former tenants of the substandard units were joined by attorney and affordable housing advocate David Grabill in a lawsuit against the landlords and the city.

The suit claims the city has failed to provide adequate affordable housing for low-income Latinos who work in the city. Attorneys for the city haven’t formally responded to the suit.

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