Who We Are

We pursue our mission by working with – rather than for – the people we serve. We seek to improve living conditions in the San Joaquin Valley through these core activities:

  • New construction of single family homes with requirements for  sweat equity and shared labor
  • Rental housing development and acquisition which includes onsite services that enrich the lives of residents
  • Technical assistance and leadership development in rural communities with clean water, sanitary sewer and other infrastructure challenges
  • Professional services to cities and counties addressing housing and community development needs, including housing rehabilitation and homebuyer financial assistance
  • Asset management of rental housing that promotes preservation and long-term sustainability
  • Training and counseling assistance to promote successful homeownership outcomes
  • Collaboration with partners to shape strong communities where families thrive

Who We Are

Self-Help Enterprises has grown from a group of visionaries who in 1964 helped three low-income families build their own homes in Goshen, CA to a nationally recognized community development organization serving the eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley – Fresno County, Kern County, Kings County, Madera County, Mariposa County, Merced County Stanislaus County and Tulare County.

It is our philosophy to work with, rather than for, families in pursuing their goals. The concept of “self-help” is based on the conviction that, given the proper tools, individuals can and will do what is necessary to improve their living conditions. This concept is not just a philosophy for homeownership but, is a driving force in all aspects of the organization.

Since 1965, Self-Help Enterprises has helped more than 6,200 families build their own homes, rehabilitated over 6,300 unsafe homes, developed over 1,300 units of affordable rental housing and has provided technical assistance for reliable access to safe drinking water and sanitary sewer infrastructures to more than 160 small communities.

Self-Help Enterprises’ commitment to providing resources and training for individuals builds capacity of highly effective leaders in communities that also promote collaborative solutions for improving communities. These combined efforts have touched the lives of over 55,000 families, providing security and stability for families and building strong, healthy and sustainable communities.

Our Rich History

The roots of self-help housing in the United States can be traced to the 1930s and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker service organization. Since 1922, AFSC had been studying the problems of coal miners throughout Appalachia. When the Depression hit, the demand for coal plummeted, and the lives of coal miners became desperate. With corporate gifts from U.S. Steel and others, AFSC developed plans for a self-help housing project called PennCraft. Self-help homes were built for the 65 families with AFSC providing the financing of 20 to 30-year loans of 2% interest. 

Around the same time, there was also a successful self-help housing project in Nova Scotia for coal miner families. In the decades that followed, additional self-help homes were sponsored by AFSC in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Puerto Rico.

While these were isolated self-help housing experiences, the roots of organized mutual self-help homebuilding as a national program trace back to the poor community of Goshen in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley. AFSC staff member Bard McAllister worked alongside farm workers and routinely asked them about their dreams and hopes. Universally, the answer was that they wanted decent homes for themselves and their children, yet low-income families, especially those of farmworkers, did not have access to conventional mortgages. In 1961, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) Section 502 loans to nonfarm rural citizens. For those in the rural areas of California, this provided a source for mortgage financing.

McAllister applied the owner-builder model and began working with three farmworker families in Goshen who would build their homes under a new concept that was later to become known as mutual self-help where families come together to construct each other’s homes. Howard Washburn, a construction contractor living in the hills above Fresno, who would later become Self-Help Enterprises’ first CEO, heard about the project and volunteered his skills. The local AFSC secured the grants and underwrote the loans necessary to purchase land and pay for construction supervision. In 1963, ground was broken on the group of three houses in Goshen. This was followed by an additional group in Goshen and a third in Cutler.

On January 21, 1965, a small group gathered in the City of Exeter to adopt articles of Incorporation and By-Laws, becoming the first Self-Help Enterprises Board of Directors. On February 5, 1965, Self-Help Enterprises was incorporated as the first rural self-help housing organization in the nation with Howard Washburn as its CEO.  Just weeks later, the U.S. Office of Economy Opportunity awarded a self-help housing grant to the newly formed organization.

Healthy Homes and Communities


Building homes that are energy efficient, use fewer resources, and are affordable.

Community Building

Empowering people to become leaders in their community.

Health & Wellness

Creating and supporting efforts to promote healthy homes and communities.