BURRILLVILLE – In a quiet cul de sac in Pascoag, 15 families share a unique life experience that bonds them together.
Five years ago, the residents of George Eddy Road didn’t know how to put up siding, install a window, or put in insulation.
Now, they’re all practically experts.
The 15 Colonial-style, single-family houses in the development, known as “Fernwood,” are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Program. After applying through the nonprofit NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, the residents built the structures themselves, spending a year investing sweat equity to create a place to call home.
“These eight families have become quite handy over the past year,” said Meghan Rego, director of resource development and communications for NWBRV, of the most recent recruits who have just about finished the task.
The credit-qualified future homeowners work with Construction Manager Paul Brais to build around 65 percent of the house, putting in 28 hours a week on nights and weekends to cut the cost of building the structure roughy in half.
The project, which began in 2015, landed the first seven families in their homes the following year. Now, they’ve completed Phase II of the project, an achievement they’ll recognize with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the development next month.
Brais came to the job from a career of school teaching and construction.
“This is a great combination of both,” he said. “Working with the families is extremely rewarding, to see people that are hard working families go from not knowing how to hold a hammer to completing construction of their own home.”
The organization starts each phase of the project by introducing the families, and holds several group meetings and classes before they go to the actual site.
“As soon as we hit the site, the group works together on one house at a time, until we get a couple going. So basically, everyone works on everyone’s house,” said Brais.
By the end of the project the families have worked together as a unit for over 1,200 hours.
“This means they know each other inside out,” said Brias. “The goal of Neighborworks is not just to build people houses, but to create neighborhoods where you can raise a family in a safe, friendly environment.”
When the project is finished, 30 houses will line the road, each on 1/3 acre of land. Houses come in four variation, and owners get to choose the design, colors and finishes for their houses, all of which have three bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms.
The project will tackle homes 16-23 in Phase III of the project, scheduled to break ground in September.
Self Help Housing Manager Daynah Williams screens the applicants.
“Anyone can apply as long as they qualify income wise and credit wise,” said Williams. “They do not have (to be a) first time home buyer. They just cannot own another home while building.”
Those who are not credit qualified are coached by NWBRV homeownership counselors until they’re ready.
Applicants do not have to have any building experience.
The full development, including the street, will take up about 12 acres of land, and the neighborhood abuts 220 acres of preserved open space.
The project won an award in March from Grow Smart Rhode Island, an organization that aims to recognize innovative leadership, revitalization, policy and planning initiatives.
Grow Smart also recognized NWBRV’s other affordable housing project in Burrillville, Greenridge Commons.
A ribbon cutting for Phase II of Fernwood will take place on Tuesday, June 4 at 11 a.m.