For years, lifelong Flathead Valley residents Steven and Lydia Puryer were searching to buy a home only to be outbid by other buyers in a tight real estate market that was exacerbated by the pandemic-fueled price increases.
“We had just gotten to the point when we said, ‘this is it, it’s done – we’re not going to get a house,’” Lydia said.
But after a family friend suggested applying for Habitat for Humanity of the Flathead Valley, the Puryer family was accepted into the program. After 14 months of construction, Steven, Lydia, and their 2- and 4-year-old kids will move into a single-family home in Somers.
“Now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and there isn’t a train coming at us,” Steven said. “There’s something to look forward to … I don’t have the right words to describe the difference it makes for us.”
The Puryer’s new home is one of five houses that are currently under construction as part of a Habitat Flathead project that began more than a year ago in Somers. At a recent home dedication, two other families also celebrated the near completion of their new houses, all located on School Addition Road. Two additional houses are in the beginning phases of construction.
As part of a partnership with AmeriCorps, Glacier Bank, and volunteers, the families who qualified for the program will pay a mortgage payment that does not exceed 30% of their gross income. The system is also set up with three separate mortgages, with the first mortgage at a 2% interest rate. If the homeowner makes consistent payments, the second mortgage is forgiven while the third mortgage is the value of the land.
For example, if a home value is $300,000, the homeowner pays $150,000 with a 2% mortgage rate. The “silent second mortgage” is $100,000, which is forgiven if the homeowner keeps up with payments. And at the end of 30 years, the homeowner then pays $50,000 to acquire the land.
“We hold onto the land, so we don’t have people flipping our houses,” Habitat for Humanity of the Flathead Valley Executive Director MaryBeth Morand said.
The homeowner in exchange is required to provide their own “sweat equity,” spending eight to 10 hours per week helping laborers with construction.
In her first year as the organization’s executive director, Morand is working to bring more affordable housing to the Flathead, but she says one of the biggest challenges is finding land to build on and she’s working to form more partnerships. Habitat recently partnered with the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust to build a home in Columbia Falls.
“We really need to be highly collaborative,” Morand said. “The objective is to be able to house families that are working here and to stabilize the community by housing them, but we also want to build a pool of affordable housing so they can remain affordable and not get on another one of these hijacked curves. If we can protect the land value, we can keep the prices down.”
Since Habitat’s Flathead chapter launched in 1989, the organization has built about 70 homes and Morand hopes to continue increasing the housing capacity. With two new AmeriCorps volunteers starting next year, she hopes to ramp up construction and build more multi-family style homes like townhouses to maximize space.
For the Puryer family, Lydia and Steven are looking forward to moving into their new home this month and moving out of the off-the-grid cabin in Trego that they’ve been living in for the past four years.
“We are going to be closer to friends and family,” Lydia said. “The possibilities of being in town are just endless.”
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