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A Look at the History of Self-Help Housing






A Look at the History of Self-Help Housing



Posted on August 2, 2022


SHE was recently visited by Tracy E. K’Meyer, Professor of History at the University of Louisville, to research the inception of the mutual self-help housing movement across America.  

The roots of self-help housing can be traced to the 1930s and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker service organization. It would later become a national program, including organized mutual self-help homebuilding in Goshen, CA.    

K’Meyer toured SHE’s local developments, including a community in Woodlake, where she interviewed families working together to build their homes. 

“One of the participants expressed her excitement to build a home for her children and the baby on the way,” said K’Meyer. “While helping to build their community, she was already bonding with her future neighbors.”  

This isn’t K’Meyer’s first time connecting with SHE’s participants. Back in 2019, she also spoke to the Adame family. Sally and Elijio Adame were part of the very first Mutual Self-Help Housing group who built their homes in 1963. Their journey to homeownership would also become the early beginnings of SHE. 

In the 1960s, AFSC staff member, Bard McAllister, worked alongside farm workers who desired to have decent homes for themselves and their children. However, 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 began working with three farmworker families in Goshen who would build their homes under the new concept of Mutual Self-Help Housing. Howard Washburn, a construction contractor from Fresno, volunteered his skills and joined the project. 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 first houses in Goshen. Additional groups later formed in Goshen and Cutler.  

On February 5, 1965, Self-Help Enterprises was incorporated as the first rural self-help housing organization in the nation with Washburn as its CEO and McAllister as an integral leader of SHE’s Community Development Program.  

Since then, SHE has helped more than 6,400 families to build their own homes, rehabilitated over 6,800 unsafe homes, and developed over 2,000 units of affordable rental housing. 

As the pioneer and leading provider of mutual self-help housing in the United States, SHE’s efforts today encompass a range of endeavors to build better homes and communities for farmworkers and other hard-working families. SHE’s combined efforts have touched the lives of more than 65,000 low-income families in the eight counties of the Valley and have served as a model for similar organizations around the world!