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Success Stories

Camp Fire survivor gets new home through USDA RD Self-Help Program

Several people raise a house wall during a group construction project

Elizabeth Brewster grew up in Paradise, California. After a time away for her career, she knew she had to come back to the place she called home – a home that had been in her family since the 1960s.

In 2018, tragedy hit. The Camp Fire, the deadliest fire in the history of California, decimated the town of Paradise, taking with it the Brewster’s family home.

After the fire, Brewster moved around from location to location in an RV, trying to figure out what to do next. In the midst of this, she learned she was pregnant. To avoid keeping her newborn in an RV bouncing around between locations, after her son was born she moved in with her mom.

Because of elevated housing costs in the area, Brewster wasn’t sure she was ever going to find a place for her and her son. Opportunities were limited, and out of hope she applied for a Mutual Self-Help Housing Technical Assistance Grant build program with Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP). CHIP is a locally-based nonprofit that uses funding from USDA Rural Development (RD) to administer an affordable homeownership program through the mutual self-help build model. Qualified participants work together to build their own homes under supervision. To participate, they must both work in the group and secure a home loan through RD.

Brewster was ecstatic to find out she was selected for the program. This was her opportunity to build her own home at a price within reach as the overall cost is reduced through sweat equity.

Brewster joined a group of other program participants to begin the process of building homes in Paradise. Each selected family works together, helping the other families in the building process. They share, blood, sweat, tears, and learning experiences together.

“On top of being able to move into these homes, we are also learning valuable skills in what it means to be a homeowner,” she said. “And top of that, we are building a community. We are getting to know our neighbors by building each other’s homes.”

Brewster emphasized how grateful she was.

“This opportunity is incredible,” Brewster added. “Owning a house this nice without the help of the USDA would not have been possible. It’s cool to picture what life will be like when we are in our own space. What this has provided for me is just out of this world.”

Obligation Amount:
Year(s) of Obligation:
Congressional District:
  • California: District 1