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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Low-income families able to build, buy with Self-Help

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

For 18 years, Claudia Shay, executive director for the Self-Help Housing Corp. of Hawai'i, has been helping hundreds of low-income families buy their own homes. But Shay's support is not limited to financial assistance or counseling. Her clients build their own homes, doing everything from digging the foundation to putting on the roof to laying the carpets.

Alene Sandry, seated, is proud of the house she built in 'Ewa Villages. Standing behind her are, from left, Alyshia Shimizu, a neighbor; and Sandry's daughters DezLee Lindborg-Sandry, 6; Carlye-Rene Lindborg-Sandry, 8; and Brandi Kaslausky, 18.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

In groups of 10 to 15 families at a time, they work for at least 32 hours a week for a year under the direction of an on-site construction supervisor learning building skills from excavation to masonry to framing. No one moves into their new homes until everyone is done.

"A team approach is valuable because you bring in skills from everybody's 'ohana and they work together," Shay said. "It is mass construction, so we dig all the foundations for the units first, then set all the footings, then the framing and floors for the units. By repeating the tasks, they become more proficient as they continue on."

So far, Shay has helped 384 families on Kaua'i, Maui, Moloka'i and O'ahu build and buy their own homes.

The corporation is now developing a 126-lot subdivision in 'Ewa Villages purchased from the city for about $11 million using federal grants and subsidized programs. Forty homes have been built there so far.

The families receive help in qualifying for a home loan, and their "sweat equity" is used as a down payment.

At a glance

• What: Self-Help Housing Corp. of Hawai'i no-down home ownership program

• More information: 842-7111 for income guidelines

The typical home is four bedrooms and two baths with 1,248 square feet under roof on a 5,000-square-foot lot. On average the homes cost about $150,000 to build and are assessed at about $239,000.

Alene Sandry, a single parent with seven children, was one of the first families to move into the 'Ewa development in a home she built along with other families who now live around her on Pualoaloa Place. Sandry had lived in public housing for 10 years and jumped at the chance to own her own home.

"Living in public housing you deal with other issues like drugs and all the ugly stuff," Sandry said. "I'm so glad I'm here today. It was an opportunity I thought would never come through. I had to take the risk, and I sacrificed a lot of family time on the weekends to make this come true."

The 15 families in her group finished their homes in December 2000.

"This is mine," Sandry said. "I have no walls I share. It's my own yard. It's mine. Ownership makes you feel really good. I thank God every day. It was a really good Christmas present."

The names of Alene Sandry's children are etched in the sidewalk near her home.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Sandry said she now feels comfortable using power tools and "knows what is behind the walls."

Shay was working at the Honolulu Community Action Program in the late 1970s lobbying for bills to promote affordable housing when she did some research on the Mainland to see how other communities were building affordable homes. She returned to Hawai'i and set up the Self-Help Housing Corp. in 1984.

"One of our major community needs is affordable housing, and I felt this was one way I could contribute to the community," she said.

About 3,000 people are on the waiting list to join the program, and about 250 units are in various stages of development. Clients include teachers, police officers and skilled laborers.

"I see a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment in the families," said Shay, who built her own home years ago. "It gives them a major leg up because they walk in with $50,000 or more in equity and they can translate that into providing more economic stability for their family. They are no longer transient renters so they become more stable. Building it themselves also creates a real sense of community because they're living amongst an 'ohana that helped them build their house. It's a real neighborhood where people gather together for the holidays and appreciate each other."

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.