Rep. Larsen tours Homes for Islanders neighborhoods

As a neighborhood group waited to meet Rep. Rick Larsen Saturday, they recited stories of the tears, laughter and truths of “sweat equity.”

“Sweat equity” was a term thrown around a lot as they waited for Larsen with Carol Maas, administrator of Homes for Islanders, a non-profit organization which has helped islanders build homes with funding from USDA Rural Development.

Veronica Romey, one of the happy homeowners, told of the experience of building homes amid ordinary events that take place in families.

During the 15 months it took to build the eight homes at Leeward Cove, one single mom held down a full-time job while contributing her required 35 hours of homebuilding labor per week — and her son got straight A’s at school during the process.

And Amber Garcia, daughter of Leeward Cove homeowner Robin Garcia, became at age 21 the youngest to qualify for a home at Park Plaza, across the street from the library.

“Sweat equity” is what these homeowners provided instead of downpayments in order to enter the world of home ownership. For most, it is a dream come true.

To qualify, the applicant’s income has to be below 80 percent of the median income in the county. Total assets must not be above $7,500, not including pensions, retirement accounts or automobiles. Participants must give 35 hours per week in labor, building their homes and their neighbors’ homes — thus the term “sweat equity.”

Everyone works together to do the jobs they know or have just learned. Homes for Islanders has only three paid employees: Justin Roche, executive director; Maas, administrator; and a construction supervisor.

Homes for Islanders was founded in 1998 by John Campbell, a local architect. Campbell was soon joined by board members Bill Gendron, Dick Kneipp, Mary Stone and others.

Campbell did the architectural plans without cost for the three neighborhoods. Campbell seemed very happy with the progress of the work. He said the whole idea was that people would to be able to help themselves achieve home ownership.

Larsen was impressed by what he saw at Leeward Cove, Rocky Bay and Park Plaza.

“It is great to see people working to help themselves,” he said. “Everyone complains about paying taxes, but this is a great example of federal tax dollars coming back home and doing something for the people.”

The construction supervisor contracts out the work which must be done by professionals, such as plumbing, electrical and roofing. He also teaches new homeowners how to do the construction work.

Many of the people are helping friends build their homes, or they are people who just want to help out. Some are contractors like Scott Carr of Allstar Builders, who started as a paid cement contractor but came back with two of his workers to volunteer at Park Plaza.

The construction supervisor at Park Plaza is Fred Marracci.

“I am pleasantly in awe of the owners and volunteers working on these homes,” he said. “They work Wednesday through Sunday and they work hard.”

Construction on Park Plaza began in March.

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