The number of homeowners in Carter County increased Friday afternoon thanks to help provided through Little Dixie Self-Help Housing. Paul and Regina Tucker, as well as Linda Martin, each had their homes pass inspection from USDA Specialist Inspector Renee Thompson. The homes are located in the Gene Autry area and were built during a seven-month period.

"For us, it was very beneficial," Paul Tucker said. "We are getting a new home, and not having to rent anymore is a nice feeling. We have something to call our own."

Little Dixie builds 82 homes over an eight county area during each two-year grant period. An Ardmore office serves Atoka, Bryan, Carter, Choctaw, Love, Marshall, McCurtain and Pushmataha Counties. The homes are financed through USDA/Rural Development and are available with lower interest rates for lower-income households.

Part of ownership through the Little Dixie program involves participation by the homeowners, who take part in tasks that include all the painting, staining, caulking, insulating, hanging doors, trim work and clean up after the contractors.

"It was a lot of work but it was well worth it," Tucker said. "Especially after seeing the finished product. The feeling when they said it was done, it was almost as good as the day my wife said yes."

Rachel Bailey, Little Dixie Self-Help Housing Group Coordinator, said Little Dixie has built thousands of homes since the program began in the mid 60's, including several thousand in Oklahoma.

"Most of our homeowners could not qualify for a home any other way," she said. "By helping complete their homes through 'self-help' family labor tasks, the homeowners create instant 'sweat-equity' and realize the value of building a home at a lower cost. Consequently, the day they move in they already have anywhere from 10 to 20 percent equity value in their homes. There is just no other program out there like this one where they can help build their own homes and basically get them at cost."

Those factors were considerable aids for Martin, whose home was built through a family effort in addition to the contractors.

"It means a step in my future," Martin said. "I could not have normally qualified for a house like this because of the down payment, closing costs. The payments are much smaller too. This helps my future without the expense of that."

Martin said closing was emotional for her after the work that was put into the home.

"When you put sweat equity into the home, it is part of you that has invested in the home and that means a lot. It was very emotional because you work so hard doing a lot of the work yourself. I kind of put my life on hold for nine months. It was also emotional going through the process because my dad was a carpenter. Shadowing him and following him around really helped me do the things I needed to for the house."

Little Dixie homeowners can also receive aid through a grant, which is beneficial. Most homeowners who are first time homebuyers are eligible for a down payment assistance grant in the amount of $4,000. The grant assists with the cost of the home and closing costs. It is provided through the Federal Home Land Bank of Topeka and Rural Enterprises Incorporated.

"I would tell people it is a great program," Tucker said. "The people that help you through the process are great and very experienced. They are willing to work with you."