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Vetter Homesteaders beat the building clock

POULSBO — Joel Kirtley says it’s been a dream.

Building his house, that is.

And he’s not just pitching in to construct his own home, but the houses of nine others in Vetter Homestead, a neighborhood developed by the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority.

Kirtley worked Saturday as part of one of four teams of homeowners putting in some manual labor on their future dwellings, bundled up and gung-ho on a process many started as early as last spring.

Each of the four groups — established in teams of 10 homeowners — has reached or is nearing the half-way point in their year-long process of constructing their own affordable housing. And the process is one as much about neighbors as it is about building a neighborhood.

Where slabs of foundation stood bare this summer, walls, roofs and even sheet-rock are now beginning to fill in.

“We’re ahead of schedule and we’re excited,” Kirtley said, adding of the cold, “With enough layers, anything’s possible.”

Kirtley, his wife and their five children are looking forward to settling into what will be a two-story, 1656-square-foot home, something he said would never have been possible without the Housing Authority’s program, which allows interested home buyers with pre-approved incomes the opportunity to create “sweat equity” by helping construct their home and the homes of their neighbors. Instead of a large down payment, 30 work hours are expected each week.

“We would never have been able to afford to buy a home,” he said. “It’s been a dream.”

As workers continue to put the meat on the homes’ proverbial bones, the true heart of the neighborhood comes from the workers themselves.

“It’s an amazing community building effort,” Kirtley said. “We’re becoming very good friends.”

KCCHA Director of Single-Family Housing David Finley said the human dynamic the Housing Authority’s project creates is a valuable one. The groups currently working to build their homes have pushed even KCCHA’s schedule, showing a motivation that’s been very positive.

“These four groups are really strong groups,” he said. “They’re really cruising along.”

Thirty Vetter homes are already completed, their inhabitants now enjoying the fruits of their strenuous labors, and for the crews now building, seeing the finished product has spurred them forward with gusto.

“It’s motivating, pure motivation, to see not just that it can be done but that it has been done,” Kirtley said.

Site supervisor Ralph Nettles said he’s seen the effect the example had on his amateur workers.

“These families have had the first 30 houses to look at,” he said. “They’re pushing us.”

Though many families come to the process without house-building know-how, construction crews are present to walk them through each step, and each family group waits until all 10 houses are finished before moving in. Nettles said the learning each worker does continues to impress him.

“It’s pretty rewarding,” he said.

Nettles said several church groups have come out to help with the effort. Victoria Williams and her crew of fellow North Kitsap Baptist High School students were on hand Saturday. Williams said this was the group’s third time pitching in, and she was glad to have found a service project locally, not in another country or state.

“It’s been nice getting to know some of the homeowners,” she said. “There’s always something that needs to be done.”

Twenty-three more Vetter homes are slated to start construction this spring, totaling 93 in the neighborhood. Of the 40 now under construction, the first should be finished around March or April, the last wrapping up in late summer or early fall. Finley said the Housing Authority is working to acquire more land for another self-help housing neighborhood.

“We actually have waiting lists now of a couple hundred people,” Finley said. The Housing Authority currently puts 40 families or individuals through the program each year, but as long as they can find affordable land, they’ll work to get 50 or even 60 families through the process annually.

KCCHA offers homeownership counselors, even for those whose credit isn’t approved. They provide a process through which those with poor credit can eventually join the program. KCCHA also offers home ownership education to all the families before they move into their new houses. Families can choose from 15 different house styles ranging from two to five bedrooms, and have a pallate of colors from which to decide. For more information, visit www.kccha.com.

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