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Success Stories

USDA RD helps family become homeowners in Napa Valley

Daniel Phelps
Photo of people lifting up a wall frame they have built out of wood while building a house.

Erik Martinez, Sr. and his wife Ana immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico about 30 years ago with the dream of making a better life for themselves. They settled in Napa Valley in the world-famous wine region where Ana found work in hospitality and tourism and Erik began working at a winery.

Though living expenses in this area are high and money and opportunities are limited, Erik and Ana settled into a trailer where they raised four children.

A few years ago, Ana learned of a local organization called Our Town St. Helena which helps families like hers become homeowners.

Our Town St. Helena is a nonprofit dedicated to making homeownership affordable through a sweat equity program. Participants build their own homes in groups, thereby making the loan and process affordable. This program is largely made possible through funding from USDA Rural Development. The agency provides technical assistance grants to Our Town St. Helena, and low-interest loans to participants.

At first, Erick was skeptical, but Ana convinced him to hear it out. “This could be life changing,” she told him.

If qualified, they could become homeowners in the area they worked on their limited income in the town of St. Helena, where homes often went for more than $1 million.

The opportunity panned out. Our Town St. Helena helped manage the paperwork and navigated the process for the Martinez family to get a home loan through USDA RD and helped the family build their home.

“This was a big learning process, with a lot of work and commitment,” said Erik Martinez, Jr., son of Ana and Erik, Sr. “We didn’t know anything about building homes; framework, tools, etc. Yet they brought this community together and we made something so beautiful.”

In August 2022 the group of families who built their homes in Brenkle Court in St. Helena moved in.

“This has been a life-changing experience,” said Ana. “I never pictured owning a home in St. Helena. This made my dream a reality.”

Find out if RD's Mutual Self-Help Housing Technical Assistance Grants can help your community.

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