Workers and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County are nearing completion of two new homes in Parrotts Ferry Village, a planned, multi-home community of affordable workforce housing in Columbia, which the nonprofit began developing in 2011.

On Saturday, qualified home buyer Alicia Cragholm, a working, single mother of three children ages 5, 8, and 10, came to paint interior areas inside the single-dwelling home she plans to move into in April.

Cragholm, 33, a current resident of Sonora, has worked full-time in a dental office for nearly three years, and before that she worked in restaurants and retail. Like other Habitat for Humanity home buyers, she had to apply to the nonprofit to see if she was qualified and complete more than 50 hours of financial stewardship, budgeting, and home maintenance courses.

“I had to apply three times before I was accepted,” Cragholm said. “April 2017 was the first time, then again about a year later. I was approved in August 2019.”

Cragholm had unpaid debts before, but was able to pay them all off with the help of Habitat for Humanity education courses, said Trinity Abila, president and chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County.

“These houses are vessels that we use to bring hope and dignity to the people who live here,” Abila said Saturday at Parrotts Ferry Village. “If we want Tuolumne County to be a beautiful place to live, a thriving place to live, we need to be able to house our workforce.”

There is a significant lack of affordable workforce housing in Tuolumne County, Abila said. Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County calls Parrotts Ferry Village workforce housing because all of the homeowners who live there are workers in Tuolumne County, Abila said.

“They work at the restaurants you eat in, the shops you shop in, at the hospital, in construction, some work at the casino, and for county administration,” she said. “Many of their peers at work, in similar jobs and with similar wages cannot afford housing because rents are so high. Getting a first-time mortgage can be overwhelming for most people on the wages many of our workforce homeowners earn.”

Families who purchase Habitat for Humanity homes earn 40 to 60 percent of the county’s median income and are considered extremely low to low income by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards, according to Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County.

For example, a 2016 study conducted by Adventist Health Sonora showed the median income in the county four years ago was $54,000. Nearly 30% of renters in the county spend more than half of their income on rent. Habitat for Humanity home buyers pay less on their mortgages than they previously did on rent.

Anyone who wants to become a Habitat for Humanity home buyer must apply, and eligibility guidelines stipulate that applicant families must live in unsafe, substandard or extremely overcrowded conditions.

Accepted applicants must put in a total of 300 hours of work called sweat equity. Those hours must include financial education classes taught by Habitat for Humanity, eHome America, and community volunteers. In addition, prospective Habitat for Humanity home buyers must pay off all medical debt before qualifying for loans and can’t have anything in collections in order to qualify.

Education courses include how to be a responsible, self-sustaining member of a homeowners association, Abila said.

Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County is the developer of Parrotts Ferry Village, but Parrotts Ferry Village has a private HOA that’s separate from Habitat for Humanity. The association’s dues, which each homeowner must budget and pay for in addition to their mortgages, help pay for exterior paint on their homes, gutters, solar panels, landscaping, fencing, pest control, and trash removal — in other words, all exterior elements of the community.

“If we’re going to build an affordable housing development, we want to make sure the aesthetics, the grounds, and houses, everything stays clean, uniform, and beautiful,” Abila said. “Forever, into perpetuity.”

Tim Anderson, construction supervisor for Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County, and Abila did a walk-through Saturday at Cragholm’s new place, while Cragholm and her sister, Amber Cragholm, 38, painted door frames upstairs.

The Parrotts Ferry Village HOA has been put together to ensure that homeowners, even though they are on workers’ wages, learn to budget and pay their association dues in addition to their mortgages and other home interior maintenance costs, Abila said. 

“When the roof needs repairing, when the home needs repainting outside, when the fencing needs repairs, they’ve already been saving and paying for that,” she said. “The HOA takes care of that. Because of the HOA element, this is a workforce community that will always be beautiful and maintained.”

In a recent newsletter announcement, Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County thanked numerous vendors who helped with completion of Cragholm’s new home and another new home, which together comprise a twin home — one building with two single-dwelling units, separated by a firewall.

“These houses are made possible through the amazing discounted services of all of our vendors! We appreciate your dedication to building affordable housing in Tuolumne County,” Habitat for Humanity communications staff said. They thanked Sierra Seamless Gutters, Vans Cabinets and Doors, Dave’s Plumbing, Pinnell’s Carpet One, and Jeff Yates for installing countertops.

The nonprofit also thanked Sierra Conservation Center and Groveland Pizza Factory for a combined donation of more than $9,000.

As a part of a program, inmates at Sierra Conservation Center can give money to various nonprofits by purchasing food, Habitat for Humanity communications staff said. That money is then donated to one or more nonprofits, chosen by a select group of inmates.

“We are so thankful that they looked at the list of possible nonprofit organizations and decided to build homes with us,” Habitat for Humanity communications staff said. “They understand that a safe, stable home can make a lasting impact on the lives of the families in our community.”

Later this year, Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County staff, workers and volunteers are preparing to break ground on foundations for two more new homes at Parrotts Ferry Village. To date, 22 homes are complete or near completion. There are plans for 13 more homes to be built. Abila estimates all home-building at Parrotts Ferry Village will be complete in the next five years.

When complete, Parrotts Ferry Village will have 35 homes total on about four acres. Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County, established in 1999, has built other affordable homes elsewhere in the county, including Ponderosa Hills, the township of Tuolumne, and other locations.

For more information about Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County, including how to donate, how to volunteer, or how to apply for a home, visit www.habitattuolumne.org online.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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