Agriculture secretary due in Taneytown Glickman to help families in 'sweat equity' project

June 09, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

With hammer in hand, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman plans to visit a Taneytown subdivision today to learn about a self-help housing project the agency finances.

Glickman plans to spend about an hour working with 16 families who are helping to build their homes in the Freestate Heights subdivision off Maryland Avenue. The families have incomes too low to qualify for conventional mortgages, so they are investing "sweat equity," doing much of the work themselves to reduce the cost.

Glickman will use the project as a setting to talk about the importance of affordable housing for low-income families in rural areas.

However, he is likely to hear a plea for more money for Department of Agriculture housing programs from representatives of Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland, the sponsor of the Taneytown project. The sponsor would like to see the agency double its $26 million nationwide housing effort.

USDA's self-help housing program "may be one of the best of the federal housing programs, but it is also one of the best-kept secrets," said James Upchurch, president of the nonprofit housing development organization.

The organization sponsors projects across Western Maryland, from apartments for the elderly in Woodsboro, Frederick County, to a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Cumberland.

Upchurch said the self-help programs work and don't generate the public opposition that some federal housing assistance programs have.

Upchurch plans to ask Glickman to support an increase in federal programs that provide rental subsidies to rural residents. That budget has shrunk from $900 million in 1992 to $100 million today.

The first five families in the Taneytown project are scheduled to move into their homes this month. The families began construction in November.

Construction is supervised by a professional contractor. Professionals also do the plumbing and electrical work.

Prospective homeowners work 25 to 30 hours a week, sandwiching the work around their jobs.

Pub Date: 6/09/98

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