In November, USDA Rural Development and Rural Community Action Program helped Andrew “Tai” Lepule and his family close on the home of their dreams.
Purchasing a house can be challenging for any family in Alaska, considering high market prices, low availability, and stringent application requirements. In 2020, unable to qualify for conventional home financing, the Lepules, a family of six, were renting an apartment. A five-bedroom, two-bath home seemed out of reach.
“I was at a point of my life where I was like, oh, I can’t deal with this, I’ve got to just let it be, but then Rural CAP helped us out tremendously,” Tai said. “They guided us, and that was a blessing within itself because I got my credit fixed.”
Once Tai’s credit was established, the Lepules applied for Rural CAP’s self-help housing program. Through this program, families realize 15-20 percent savings in sweat equity for their labor contribution.
“I didn’t have the money to come down and put the down payment for places like that, but this gave me the opportunity to work it off,” Tai said.
Rural Development’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Technical Assistance Grant Program provides funding to qualified organizations like Rural CAP to help them carry out local self-help housing construction projects. Grant recipients supervise groups of very-low- and low-income individuals and families as they construct their own homes in rural areas.
As a high school special education instructor and football and soccer coach, Tai didn’t bring a construction-specific skillset to the 35 hours of required work each week, but his enthusiasm and determination set his family, and future home, up for success.
“I don’t know the odds and ends or the tricks and trades of building a house, but you tell me what I need to do, and I can hammer, I can cut. I was taught a lot of the cutting and techniques. You tell me, and I can learn. I can do it,” Tai said. “I’ve learned so much through the program.”
With guidance from Rural CAP’s construction supervisors, the Lepules built “everything except for the concrete, electrical, plumbing, and the shingle things that go on the top of the roof.”
“The program is demanding, but, to me, I kept looking down at end of the road: this is my house. This is my house for me and my family.” Tai said.
In Soldotna, USDA RD invested $734,714 with Rural CAP to help 18 families build energy efficient homes. The first nine homes were declared move-in ready Nov. 21. The next nine are scheduled for completion in 2024.
“It was really awesome. My family was able to celebrate Thanksgiving in our new house… It was our house, you know. Rural Development made it possible,” said Tai. “This program is such a blessing to me and my family.”
To date, Rural Development and Rural CAP have partnered to help 98 families realize the dream of home ownership.