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Senator in fight to keep American dream alive

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) joined families of the Vetter Homestead to raise a wall during an open house celebration Wednesday in Poulsbo.  Nearly 1,300 Kitsap families have participated in the self-help housing program. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) joined families of the Vetter Homestead to raise a wall during an open house celebration Wednesday in Poulsbo. Nearly 1,300 Kitsap families have participated in the self-help housing program.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Poulsbo’s Vetter Homestead nearly complete for 93 self-help families.

POULSBO — The sky was missing its golden orb but there was plenty of brightness to go around in Poulsbo’s Vetter Homestead Wednesday morning. A crowd clad in sunny yellow T-shirts gathered to celebrate 93 homes – 73 of which are now complete – that are part of Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority’s self-help home ownership program.

KCCHA staff, construction crew members and area leaders, including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), helped to ring in the day with a wall raising on one of the final 20 homes to be constructed, as well as a neighborhood tour, sidewalk signing and barbecue.

Vetter Homestead is now Washington’s largest self-help development and the third of its kind in Poulsbo. KCCHA has provided homes for nearly 1,300 low- and moderate-income families through the self-help program, which offers lighter loan terms in exchange for 30 hours of “sweat equity” during the months-long home building process. Homes are built in groups of 10, each homeowner, their friends and family helping to build not just their own future home, but those of nine neighbors. The program receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development branch.

USDA-RD official Jon DeVaney said Washington is now the No. 1 self-help housing state in the nation, and Vetter serves as a prime example of the program’s success.

“I would challenge anyone who has doubts about putting self-help housing in their community to come visit Vetter. Their doubts will disappear,” he said. “It is beautiful and it is an example for the whole state.”

Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade put into perspective the program’s importance: “We could very well be facing the greatest housing crisis of our time,” she said.

But KCCHA’s self-help offer continues to mitigate reports of families losing their homes, and is, she said, “one of the most successful home ownership programs in the nation.”

Vetter homebuilder Joel Kirtley said before taking KCCHA’s option, he, his wife and their five kids were simply “stuck,” without a house of their own. Now they not only have a home, but have become a part of a close-knit community that started out only as strangers.

“The best thing of it all was those strangers turned into good friends, those good friends turned into neighbors, and those neighbors turned into a family,” he said.

Murray (D), chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Appropriations, gave assurance the self-help housing program has been factored into the Senate’s 2009 budget after being zeroed out by the Bush Administration earlier this year. She raised its proposed funding from $28 million to $38 million; the Senate’s vote on the budget has yet to be scheduled so the budget item is not yet certain. The program requires $46 million to operate nationwide.

A tight budget and the current lack of federal dollars won’t keep Murray from championing the cause, she said. As the nation’s fourth-highest ranking U.S. senator, she said she’ll continue to tell the self-help housing story and push to assure funds are allocated to what she called an “investment in the future of the country.”

She can relate, she said, as during her childhood her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and for a time her parents and siblings used food stamps out of necessity.

“It really was because we had a country at our back that our family survived and grew and was strong,” she said. “I’m going to keep defending this project … I’m going to be there to make sure your country is at your back just like it was at my back when I was growing up.”

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