Justin and Mandy McClellan live in Wayne County, KY with their two small sons, Xander and Bentley. Justin and Mandy have dreamed of owning a home from the first the day they were married eight years ago. Since their sons were born, the desire has grown even greater as they wish for nothing more than to have a home within city limits so they’re boys can have an active part in after school activities, be closer to kids their own age, and become active members of the community.
“We’ve been to every bank and loan officer in town and we were turned down,” said Justin. “It’s hard to get a loan.” Justin is a service manager at Wal-Mart in the Tire and Lube section while Mandy stays home watching their sons. “We used to rent an apartment for $450 a month. It’s hard to watch that money go towards rent when you know it could be going towards a home of your own.”
“It can be very discouraging when you’re trying and you’re wondering how you’re going to get a decent home for your kids,” said Mandy.” They are our lives and building a better future for them by getting a good home in town has always been our goal. They currently can’t participate in school activities because we live so far away. They don’t get to see other kids and socialize. I want them to have a chance to be involved more in their school and community.”
Despite setbacks on their dream of getting a home, the McClellan’s never gave up. After six years of waiting, they finally found the answer they were looking for. Two of their friends were getting a home with Southern Tier Housing Corporation (an affiliate of Fahe member Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation) through the USDA Mutual Self Help Housing Program (MSHH). They told the McClellan’s about the program. Justin and Mandy called and soon found themselves with other families, swinging hammers, and building homes and community.
The Mutual Self Help Housing Programs works on the principal that people will value their home more when they are able to make an investment of time and effort in the construction. Families involved in the program make up building groups which take turns working on each member’s homes. These groups perform at least 65 percent of the construction labor to build their homes. Supervisors from a local nonprofit housing entity, in this case Southern Tier, provided construction supervision on site as well as homeownership training and several other services. Not only do the families who participate have a buy in and sense of pride about their own home, they form bonds with other families also going through the process.
“It can seem like a long process,” said Justin. “Since we’ve started we’ve been waiting one and a half years to build. There’s paperwork and other things involved, but that one and a half year is nothing compared to spending six years not knowing if you will ever get approved. Getting into process was amazing and now that we’ve started on our house, the construction seems to be flying by.”
The McClellan’s house was the site of the Mutual Self Help Housing Programs 50th anniversary celebration. Along with their build group, people from all over the community showed up to help work on the house and celebrate. Speakers included Wayne County Judge Executive Mike Anderson, Mayor of Monticello Jeffrey Edwards, Congressman Hal Rogers, KY Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen, and USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Lisa Mensah. The McClellan’s were honored to have everyone show up, provide support, and lend a hand, however; the people that Justin and Mandy were most excited about working on their home were their two sons. “We just let them hammer on the house and I’m so excited. I will remember this for the rest of my life and I hope they do too. I hope they remember helping to build their own house and that it fills them with pride.”
Though the home is going up rather fast, the McClellan’s have to wait for all the homes in the work group to be finished before anyone can move in. Once all the families are cared for they will as a group all move into their homes in December. The McClellan’s new energy efficient home will help them to save money on utility bills, it will allow them to be closer to their growing community of friends, and it will allow their sons better chances in school and life. As a special memento, the work group is incorporating a block into the house from the home that Mandy grew up in. The old house was built by her grandfather and the block will have his name engraved and put on the porch.
Mandy and Justin said the program gave them hope and a better perspective on community and that anyone who is looking for a home would do well to work with Southern Tier if they live in the area or to seek out a Mutual Self Help Housing Program. “Don’t be afraid and don’t let anything discourage you,” said Mandy. “We’ve wanted a house since we go together and we weren’t sure it would happen, but we tried and here we are.”
“Anything you put your mind to will happen. I never thought that I would be building my own home at age 28,” said Justin. “It’s a huge step in our lives and we’re proud to be here.”
Your support of Fahe helps Appalachian people like the McClellan’s build a better life. Over the last few years the USDA has undergone dramatic financial cuts and they even faced losing the 502 Direct Loan Program which is a vital mortgage loan for low-income rural families. Thanks to Fahe and members rallying on Washington D.C., the budget cuts were dramatically lower than proposed which helped to preserve programs like Mutual Self Help Housing. Your continued support allows Fahe to provide advocacy that matters as well essential affordable housing solutions, community development, and job creation that impacts the lives of Appalachian Families. Please continue your support of Appalachia and families like the McClellan’s by asking your friends and family to sign up for our newsletter or by sharing our stories on Facebook and Twitter.