HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – A home loan program run by the United States Department of Agriculture has helped more than a thousand people in Hillsborough County build their dream home.
Since 1993, the nonprofit Florida Home Partnership has used the Rural Development Loan to help low-income families who qualify through the process.
“The USDA Mutual Self-Help program is what we do,” said Mike Morina, executive director of Florida Home Partnership. “I’ve been in the nonprofit housing industry for 30 years, and I’ve never seen a program like this and I still haven’t seen it. And it’s a bit of a secret because it’s is mainly in rural areas.”
Participants contribute a minimum of 600 sweat equity hours in the construction of their homes and help build other homes in the neighborhood. The nonprofit does the groundwork to guide people through the process.
“We’ve built over 1,000 homes since we started, and all of them for low- and very-low-income families,” Marina said. “And, the way it works, it’s different is that Florida Home Partnership gets a two-year grant from the United States, USDA, and with that grant they pay us to run this program to be the advisor technical, if you will. And what we do is go get land, we develop it. And we do all of that, and it’s quite an ordeal to buy land, to build the road and the sewers , to do all the engineering.
Morina said all of this leads to significant savings.
“I’m signing contracts today for $100,000 to $120,000 below what it would cost to buy the same house on the regular market,” Marina said. “It’s just a huge difference. It feels like a bit of fairness, which can change people’s lives.”
That changed Florida Home Partnership loan manager Teresa Alvarado.
“When I bought my house, it was under $100,000,” Alvarado said. “Now it’s like, can you find something under $100,000 or thereabouts?”
Alvarado moved from Mexico to the United States when he was 14 years old. She received an education, learned English and worked hard. But then something else happened when she bought her house 17 years ago.
“The person who did my loan called me and said, ‘Hey, explain the program to me in Spanish.’ And you know, of course, I did. And she said, ‘Okay, would you like to work for us? You’re hired.'”
Alvarado has worked her way up the nonprofit and now cares for people who are in the same place she was all those years ago.
“I sometimes feel like I’m getting more emotional than the contestant because it kind of takes me back to who I once was,” Alvarado said. “I can relate to stress or happy times.”
There are a hundred people on the waiting list. But, Alvarado urges anyone who qualifies to take the time to register.
“It’s a long process, but it’s definitely worth it. I’ve been in my house for 17 years, but I’m not going to sell it. Right now is a good time to sell, but no matter what. money I get, it’s not worth it – seeing your house built from the bottom up and knowing that you worked on it. It’s like, wow, to me, it felt like I had it If I did that, I can do anything.