The heroes of the day -- the ones Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman came to Taneytown to celebrate yesterday -- dressed for the occasion in teal Interfaith Housing T-shirts, work pants, work shoes and tool belts.
They are building their houses in a self-help project sponsored by Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland and had no time to waste. They were on the job, joined for the day by volunteers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Service, several hours before Glickman arrived at 10: 30 a.m.
"These are my heroes, the people who are building their own houses," said James E. Upchurch, president of Interfaith Housing. He spoke during Glickman's visit, billed as a celebration of homeownership achieved through federally financed self-help projects. The secretary's tour of Freestate Heights subdivision, off Commerce Street, attracted about 100 people.
The self-help project will include 22 houses. Families who have built the first six houses hope to move in by the end of this month.
"I wish, I wish," said prospective homeowner Raquel Lopez as she sat on the porch of her family's nearly finished house. "I want that so bad."
The "builders" have been through back pains, tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome from the construction work. They have had moments of frustration when the stress built up and, Lopez said, "We go to my house and have a few beers" and work out the glitches in their working relationships.
But it will be worth it, said prospective owner Rick Stonesifer. "You bet," he said. "It's like our pioneering forefathers. It's a journey."
Glickman visited the Taneytown subdivision to generate public interest in federal rural housing assistance programs, which are far less well known than urban subsidized housing programs operated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Agriculture Department will spend $150 million in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 to provide 2,000 to 2,500 houses for rural residents, said Jan Shadburn, Rural Housing Service administrator. The department provides housing for 1 million people through rural rental subsidies and homeownership programs.
Self-help housing is a public and private partnership where USDA provides technical assistance grants to groups such as Interfaith Housing.
In the Taneytown project, participants have average incomes of $25,000 a year, about half the county average. They can qualify for mortgages at interest rates as low as 1 percent through the USDA's Rural Development, formerly the Farmers Home Administration.
Glickman praised the self-help concept as having a better image with the public than Section 8 or urban housing subsidies. "Any ** kind of program in which the person himself contributes is going to be better perceived by the public as a whole, but also by the person," Glickman said.
Glickman and his entourage climbed a ladder to help build walls for what will be the second floor of Jodi DaRoja's house. But the agriculture secretary said he was happy to have his effort supervised by professional contractors. Project participants work under oversight of licensed contractors.
Pub Date: 6/10/98