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Work on latest home likely to start this spring

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FARMINGTON — With construction on their newest house scheduled to begin this spring, officials at Tres Rios Habitat for Humanity will begin the process of finding a family to occupy that home this weekend.

A meeting outlining the organization's application process for potential homeowners will take place at 10 a.m. Feb. 8 at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. The application will be explained in detail, as will the requirements for qualifying for a Habitat home, and the partnering process between families and the organization. A question-and-answer session will follow.

Longtime Habitat board member Frank Hayes will lead the session. He encourages any needy family with an interest in the program to attend the meeting, acknowledging the application process can be viewed by some people as intimidating.

"Yes, that really happens," he said.

But the good news is that the local Habitat chapter has brought on board Beverly Bixler of Farmington's Silver Oak Mortgage, who Hayes described as an expert at guiding people through the intricacies of applying for a mortgage.

"She's available to help people through this process," he said. "It is an intimidating process, and we do approximately the same thing a bank does."

Habitat officials hope to cast as wide a net as possible when it comes to attracting applicants so that their work benefits the most deserving families. Chapter spokeswoman Hope Tyler said many people wrongly assume they won't qualify for the program and don't apply for that reason.

But she pointed out the last two recipients of Habitat homes in the area both initially thought the same thing, only to learn they did qualify once they were persuaded to fill out the paperwork.

There are signs the effort to attract more applicants is working. Tyler said Feb. 6 that 358 people already had indicated an interest in attending the meeting on the organization's Facebook page. When the local chapter went through this process last year, she said, only 150 people had indicated an interest in attending.

Approximately 30 people followed through on their expression of interest and showed up at the meeting, so Habitat officials are not expecting an overflow crowd at the Civic Center for this year's event. But they would be delighted to have a significant group of applicants from which to choose.

Applicants must meet several requirements to qualify for the program. An applicant's income cannot exceed 60 percent of the median family income for San Juan County. For a family of four, Hayes said, that would be approximately $33,000.

Applicants also must have an acceptable credit report, since a demonstrated ability to meet a monthly mortgage payment on the home is an essential part of the program.

Tyler said the program is open to everyone, but Habitat is especially interested in helping families that are living in substandard housing with overcrowded, unsafe, unsanitary or unhealthy conditions.

Contrary to what some people believe, Hayes said, Habitat does not simply give houses away.

"Some people come (to the meeting) thinking, 'OK, I'm going to get one of those free houses,'" he said. "Well, they are not free houses. It's important for the homeowners, and the people who support us, to know these are not free houses."

After this weekend's meeting, applicants will have approximately a month to submit their paperwork. Then the Habitat selection committee will identify the applicants who qualify for the program, and start making site visits and conducting interviews to determine which families are the neediest and best equipped to meet the requirements of the program.

After that, the selection committee will meet again to determine which family will be selected for the program.

"Hopefully, we'll have a family picked out by the first or middle of April," Hayes said.

Habitat officials won't decide on a site for the home until they have selected a family. The organization has vacant lots available in Aztec and on Crouch Mesa, and it may soon have one available in Bloomfield, Hayes said. The size of the family, and its location preference, will factor into where the new home is built.

Hayes said once those decisions are made, he hopes to see construction start right away.

Each new Habitat home costs $140,000, and the family moving into the house must provide a specified amount of work during the construction phase — called "sweat equity" — as part of the arrangement. The home the organization built last year, which is located on Crouch Mesa, was constructed in five and a half months, allowing a single mother and her four daughters to move in by October.

More: Habitat for Humanity finishes new home, plans benefit concert this weekend

Even someone who may not be a good candidate for acceptance into the program this year is encouraged to attend this weekend's meeting and go through the application process, Hayes said. Tres Rios Habitat for Humanity typically builds a new home each year, and going through the process one year may help an applicant learn how to improve his or her family's chances in the future, he said.

The organization is planning another event next month that is designed to help potential homeowners put themselves in a better position. A free home buyer education class — open to everyone, not just Habitat applicants — is set for 9 a.m. March 14 at Bethany Christian Church, 711 E. 30th St. in Farmington.

Free child care will be offered at the meeting, but those planning on attending are asked to RSVP at tresriohabitat.com/homeowner-education.html so Habitat officials can prepare an information packet for them.

Call 505-326-5379 or visit tresrioshabitat.com.new-homes.html for more information about the application process or this weekend's meeting.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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