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Officials see ‘historic opportunities’

<p>photo by TANIAH TUDOR</p><p><strong></strong>Lawrence McCullough, Arkansas state director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, points out energy efficient features of a home under construction in Van Buren to Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development Doug O’Brien. Homeowner Brenda Goss, pictured with her 17-year-old daughter Tiffany and holding her 4-year-old son Matthew, was able to build the home through the USDA Rural Development and Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council, Inc.’s Mutual Self-Help Program. Also shown is Karen Phillips, homeownership center director for the C-SCDC.</p>

photo by TANIAH TUDOR

Lawrence McCullough, Arkansas state director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, points out energy efficient features of a home under construction in Van Buren to Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development Doug O’Brien. Homeowner Brenda Goss, pictured with her 17-year-old daughter Tiffany and holding her 4-year-old son Matthew, was able to build the home through the USDA Rural Development and Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council, Inc.’s Mutual Self-Help Program. Also shown is Karen Phillips, homeownership center director for the C-SCDC.

<p>photo by TANIAH TUDOR</p><p><strong></strong>Brenda Goss puts Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development Doug O’Brien to work caulking the frame of her house.</p>

photo by TANIAH TUDOR

Brenda Goss puts Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development Doug O’Brien to work caulking the frame of her house.

by TANIAH TUDOR

Press Argus-Courier Staff

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Rural Development and Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council were in Van Buren Monday to check out an energy efficient home being built through the USDA Rural Development and C-SCDC Mutual Self-Help Program.

USDA Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien spoke at the home, still under construction, to promote the use of energy efficient methods in rural housing.

O’Brien sees “historic opportunities” in rural areas related to energy and renewable energy, production agriculture and agri exports, and local and regional food systems, he said.

“Housing is an anchor to a rural economy,” O’Brien said. “For people in rural communities to be able to capture these opportunities, safe and affordable housing is crucial.”

Staff from the C-SCDC help low to moderate-income families who qualify get a subsidized loan through USDA Rural Development, with an interest rate of 1 to 3.25 percent. Loan amounts and payments are based on income.

Participants in the program help each other save money on their new homes by contributing “sweat equity” to the construction and cleanup.

They also have the choice of including energy efficient features, such as the ones homeowner Brenda Goss incorporated. Energy-saving features in her home include sealed windows, insulated garage doors, sealed exterior and interior walls, tons of insulation, and an energy-efficient heating and air unit.

Goss, her 17-year-old daughter Tiffany and 4-year-old son Matthew had about $12,000 worth of equity put into the home, which is used as a down payment, said Karen Phillips, Homeownership Center director for the C-SCDC.

Goss spent four years getting out of debt and building her credit to be able to enter the Self-Help program, she said. Having the house will allow her to give more back to her kids, she said.

“There’s a lot of pride in it, to be able to provide something more stable for them,” Goss said.

With loan payments that are $100-$150 less than her current rent, Goss will have more money to go toward other things, such as Tiffany’s future college expenses, she said.

Tiffany, who already is planning the decorations for her new room, said she doesn’t mind helping with cleanup.

“It’s actually pretty cool to see everything and how it’s advancing,” Tiffany said.

Some rural development housing programs such as the Self-Help program were set to end in some areas in September 2012, then in March of this year, after census results pushed those areas’ populations above 10,000. Van Buren is one of those areas.

Phillips said the programming is still set to expire, but has been extended until September. It’s possible the programming will be extended again, she said.

“That’s our hope,” Phillips said.

The housing crisis hit rural America the hardest, O’Brien said. In four years, Rural Development programming has helped about 630,000 families get their own homes, he said.

“At the end of the day, Rural Development will still be here in housing helping families come home,” O’Brien said.

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