By Jeff Cascione, Vice President, Navigant Credit Union
Whether it’s a starter home or your dream house, there’s nothing quite like walking through the front door of a place you can call your very own for the first time. It’s a feeling we at Navigant Credit Union have helped bring to life for our members for more than a century. Nothing beats it.
Well, maybe something beats it.
Imagine walking through the front door of a house you built with your own two hands. That’s what a dozen or so local families got to experience earlier this year, thanks to a uniquely innovative program called the Fernwood Self-Help Housing Initiative.
A partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, the Fernwood Self-Help Housing Initiative gives low-income families affordable opportunities to own their homes and, quite literally, play a hand in building a brand-new community.
Here’s how it works: In 2015, with financial support from a number of financial institutions, including Navigant Credit Union, NeighborWorks purchased a parcel of undeveloped land tucked away in a quiet corner of Pascoag. The plan was to build two dozen or so one-family homes, and create – from the ground up – a new neighborhood in Rhode Island.
Here’s what makes it unique: Those two dozen or so one-family homes would be built by the families moving into them. Qualified families would be selected by NeighborWorks to participate in what the U.S.D.A. calls its “Self-Help Housing Sweat Equity Model.” Under the supervision of professional contractors, families would be asked to contribute at least 800 hours of labor to build the homes in the neighborhood. In exchange, once the homes were completed, they’d be approved for a home loan with interest rates as low as 1%. Plus, of course, they’d get the keys.
At Navigant Credit Union, we see this project as a perfect representation of the power of community. It’s a testament to what can happen when people come together as neighbors to help each other. It’s a case study that proves that, by working together, communities have the power to create something new, something real, something outstanding.
When Navigant Credit Union first opened its doors way back in 1915, our founders made a promise to do what they could to help Rhode Islanders realize their financial dreams. They believed that everyone, regardless of where they came from, what language they spoke, or what they did for a living, deserved a fair shot at achieving the idyllic American Dream. Those same values have stuck with us after all these years. So when we were first approached to support the Fernwood project, our answer was an immediate and resounding yes.
The results of this project have lived up to our excitement. In November of 2016, the first phase of the project was completed. Seven local families came together to host ribbon-cutting ceremonies at seven brand-new, Colonial-style homes – homes they built themselves. This past June, another dozen families celebrated the completion of their homes.
It has been an absolute joy to see this project come together. This previously undeveloped, peaceful piece of Pascoag is now officially an up-and-coming neighborhood.
And it’s all because a whole bunch of people came together to make it happen.
If you’re interested in learning more about NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley and the Fernwood Self-Help Housing Initiative, head to their Facebook page by clicking here.