Eric Stahlman has lived in Ashland off and on for 11 years, working odd jobs at the Ashland Food Cooperative, hanging Christmas lights for the annual festival and operating the presses at the Daily Tidings. He imagined buying a home one day, but the longer he stayed in town, the less realistic his dream seemed.

The 33-year-old is now only a few months away from owning a brand new home on Siskiyou Boulevard &

a home he helped build himself through a sweat-equity program offered by the Rogue Valley Community Development Corporation.

The development on the corner of Park Street and Siskiyou Boulevard is the second affordable housing project of its kind in Ashland &

reserved for families and individuals who make less than 80 percent of the area median income, which ranges from $29,600 for an individual, up to $42,300 for a family of four.

Stahlman and five other families and individuals have spent the past nine months building their homes, which cost $140,000 apiece. Homeowners are required to spend at least 32 hours per week building their homes, and although they can recruit friends to help, it can be a grueling process.

"I'm working 72 hours of work a week, and I've had only one weekend off since January," Stahlman said. "The idea of going back to 40 hours a week is heavenly."

Stahlman, like most sweat-equity applicants, had minimal construction experience before breaking ground on his home and he faced a steep learning curve. But the hard work was well worth it, he said.

Not only will he own a home, but he has made great friends by learning and sweating alongside his future neighbors.

"Nine months of working 32 hours a week, you really get to know somebody," he said. "You know you can count on them and they are a part of your life. It will be a lot easier to borrow a cup of sugar."

Building a house from the ground up also offers a big boost in self-esteem for many program participants, said John Wheeler, RVCDC director of acquisitions and building.

In the year-and-a-half since the first set of homes on Faith Street and Siskiyou Boulevard were completed, various residents have gone back to school, switched to higher-paying jobs and one woman is starting a community car-share, he said.

"Once they've gone through this and spent a year building their own house, if they can do that, they think 'Why don't I go back to school? Why don't I go ask my boss for a promotion? Why don't I get a better job?'" Wheeler said.

RVCDC also helps potential builders with credit counseling, and once they enter the program, the new homeowners can save up for school or their first home purchase with Individual Development Accounts that offer three-to-one fund matching. The program requires no down payments, and monthly payments range between $500 and $800.

And although resale price increases are capped at about $4,000 per year, getting that first home sets the owners up for future success.

"It's an amazing place to spend five years, pull the money out and have a down payment on their dream home," he said. "What it is, is a great place to start. Nobody's going to get rich."

Jeremy Senn was one of the builders in the first round of homes, and now he is back with the nonprofit, working part-time as an assistant construction supervisor. He recently finished a master's degree and also works as an assistant track coach at Southern Oregon University.

Owning a home with his wife and two children, ages four and six, has allowed the family to settle into Ashland.

"It definitely makes me feel like we're more rooted in this town," he said. "It was a great feeling. We had rented in Ashland for four years up until that and we really wanted to stay in Ashland. This was the only way to stay."

One home in the current development is still available that would require only a few months of construction work, and RVCDC is also accepting applicants for its next project of 15 homes in Verde Village near Helman Elementary. Applicants must meet income qualifiers, have decent credit ratings and little or no debt, Wheeler said.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .