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Burillville, RI – Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse joined Housing Secretary Josh Saal, NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley (NWBRV), RIHousing, funding and community partners, and new homeowners to celebrate the completion of Phase III and start of construction for Phase IV at the Fernwood ‘Mutual Self-Help’ Housing Development in Burrillville.
“A good neighbor will let you borrow a hammer. A great neighbor will help build your house!” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Banking Committee and a strong Congressional backer of both the USDA Mutual Self-Help Program and HOME funding. “Housing affordability is a real issue right now and we’ve got to address it from every angle. With federal support, expertise from RIHousing and NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, and a priceless amount of sweat equity, these Pascoag families worked together to build their own homes, assist their neighbors, and build a wonderful neighborhood.”
Built, in part, by the homeowners themselves to preserve affordability, Fernwood is the development of a 30-unit homeownership neighborhood located in the village of Pascoag. Being developed in four phases, with the first three phases complete, to date, Fernwood has created 22 homeownership opportunities for families. Fernwood Phase III has recently been completed and is occupied by homeowners while Fernwood IV is set to break ground.
“Rising housing costs have pushed homeownership out of reach for too many Rhode Island families. Federal investment supported the Fernwood development, which pairs interested families with construction professionals to build their own homes,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “Innovative developments like this one increase affordable housing options while forging a sense of community among neighbors.”
The multi-phase development has been supported via USDA Rural Development’s unique ‘Mutual Self Help Housing’ program. The program gives qualified first-time homebuyers the opportunity to work under the supervision of a construction manager to help build their own homes. Families work in teams, committing to 30 to 35 hours of work each week to building each other’s homes until the development is complete. This ‘sweat equity’ cuts the cost of each home nearly in half, making the dream of homeownership affordable for low- to moderate-income families.
“The Fernwood Development is a great example of how neighbors can come together through innovative partnerships and create affordable homeownership opportunities,” said Rhode Island Secretary of Housing Josh Saal. “I commend NeighborWorks and its partners for helping us reach yet another milestone in this important development, which could not happen without the continued support of our federal and state officials. Most importantly, I congratulate each of the first-time homeowners who put much love and labor into building this wonderful community.”
”The homes at Fernwood are located on individual lots within a cul-de-sac neighborhood on George Eddy Drive off of Reservoir Road in the village of Pascoag in Burrillville. Each home includes three bedrooms, 1.5 baths and is set on 1/3 of an acre of land within the development. The houses are designed to reflect the character of historic homes in the area. In addition to physically building their homes, homeowners choose the color and style of their house (Saltbox or Early American) prior to construction. They select the layout, the colors, and finishes, making their houses truly their own.
“NeighborWorks is excited to offer the sweat equity model of affordable homeownership in Rhode Island” shares Joe Garlick, Executive Director of NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. “It is not for the faint hearted, but for those who are able to put in the time and effort, this is a great opportunity to own their own. The “Selfies” are the State’s frontline affordable housing do-ers. We celebrate them for their grit and determination to put a roof over their heads. We also acknowledge the support of our Federal, State & local partners who make it all possible with the financing and other financial support.”
According to the HousingWorks RI 2021 Fact Book, the median single-family home price in 2020 in Burrillville was $300,000, an increase of 32% since 2015. Given rising interest rates and limited housing stock, NWBRV’s Self-Help Housing program at Fernwood is one program keeping homeownership within reach. The homes are restricted to households earning between 50% to 80% of AMI (Area Median Income).
The development was funded through USDA Mutual Self-Help program funds, the federal HOME program, the Building Homes Rhode Island (BHRI) state bond referendum, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s affordable housing program (AHP), RIHousing’s Homeownership Investment Fund (HIF) program and funding from Neighborworks America and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). The property was held in RIHousing’s Land Bank while financing was secured.
“Celebrating newly constructed affordable homes for first-time homebuyers is a big deal,” said James Comer, Deputy Director of RIHousing. “Today, we are celebrating more than the completion of construction on these new homes. We are celebrating the families who recently moved into the homes they worked so hard to build, achieving their dreams of homeownership. Working together, utilizing innovative funding programs, and bringing together federal, state, local, for and non-profit partners we can open the doors to homeownership for even more Rhode Islanders.”
The development stands on roughly 14 acres, preserving the surrounding open space. The site allows residents to live in a rural setting, with all the amenities of downtown Pascoag nearby. The new structures are Energy Star rated, built to conserve water, and feature renewable materials. Fernwood was awarded a 2019 Outstanding Smart Growth Project Award from Grow Smart RI for its compact design and preservation of natural resources and open space. It’s location, particularly quiet and without streetlights, illustrates its commitment to these design principles.
“The experience has been so wonderful for my partner Cindy and me,” share June Degre, Fernwood III builder and homeowners. “We never thought we’d be able to build or afford our own home. It’s been hard work, but beyond well worth it. I highly recommend this program.”