Let’s expand self-help housing across Texas

self-help home builderTexas has several of the nation’s leading self-help housing nonprofits who have been tremendously successful in producing highly cost-efficient self-help housing. The state has recognized and supported the work of these self-help nonprofits through establishment of the Texas Bootstrap Self-Help Owner-Builder Loan program.

Yet self-help homeownership production programs are only available in a handful of geographic areas, primarily clustered along the Texas-Mexico border and in the cities where a few Habitat for Humanity chapters actively use the program. The opportunities for self-help homeownership should be extended to low income families statewide. In order to do so the state must invest in increasing the competency, knowledge and capacity of nonprofit organizations to sponsor self-help homeownership construction programs.

Self-help housing is a substantially different business than that of the traditional community development corporation (CDC) or private homebuilder. It involves training, supervision and motivational work that extends beyond that of the traditional CDC. In order to expand the number of nonprofits who are competent to undertake self-help housing these additional skills must somehow be transferred from the existing successful self-help housing groups to organizations in other parts of the state.

The Texas Self-Help Housing Academy would be a biennial two week training and certification program funded by the state. The goal would be to increase the number of successful self-help housing organizations serving all sectors of the state. The academy would provide funding and stipends for trainers and participants. Each training would provide coursework covering all aspects of operating a nonprofit self-help housing organization. Trainers would be drawn from existing successful self-help housing organizations in Texas and around the country as well as building professionals, architects, city planners, financial professionals, et cetera.

The academy would be open to participants on a competitive basis who have not previously successfully operated a self-help housing program. The academy would also be open to any organizations receiving funding through the Texas Bootstrap loan program as a way of improving and renewing the skills and increasing the capacity of existing self-help housing providers.

In conjunction with the training a six month paid internship program would be offered to place and train future self-help providers with experienced mentors.

The academy would be funded through a combination of the state’s share of the federal HOME program, utilizing the allowance for nonprofit capacity building, and leveraged with a modest contribution from the Texas Housing Trust Fund. Additionally, sponsorships should be sought from financial institutions and foundations. Minimal funding levels of $100,000 per biennium would be mandated by the Legislature to support the Texas Self-Help Housing Academy.

Concurrent with the establishment of the Texas Self-Help Housing Academy, TDHCA should establish an Office of Self-Help Housing and be provided with three additional staff assigned to this new office to oversee and support the state’s efforts to increase the number of Texas families who can participate in the self-help homeownership programs.