Gloria Palacios worked for most of her life as a migrant farmworker picking fruits and vegetables in several states across the Southwest.
With hopes of settling down one day, Palacios and her husband Evelio bought a property in Cameron County, Texas – the state’s southernmost county. Still, they struggled for years with living conditions they felt were unsafe; their home had no insulation, no electricity in the bedrooms, and was prone to flooding.
Then, in 2018, Palacios took a big step to securing a long-term, affordable home – she applied to build a new house through Come Dream. Come Build. – or cdcb – a non-profit community housing development organization in South Texas.
Cdcb offered something rare: help with the details of lining up credit to buy a house, combined with an offer to build an innovative kind of home through MiCASiTA, a collaboration between cdcb and buildingcommunityWORKSHOP. MiCASiTA, a winner of the 2020 Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge, builds modular homes and allows new owners with modest incomes to choose the number of rooms they want and how they’ll be configured. A specially created app also allows homebuyers to select key design features, such as the finish on their kitchen faucets.
A Time for Celebration
Five years after they began housing counseling sessions with the cdcb team, the Palacios recently moved into their new home.
Gloria Palacios expressed joy that she would have a permanent home after years of struggling to find stable housing. “We are very ready to enjoy our new home,” she said. “We are older people, so we want a small house that supports aging in place.”
Clients of cdcb like the Palacios – especially people living in rural areas – often work and save for years yet struggle to get their application documents ready to qualify for a mortgage loan, said Linda Marín, director of homeownership for cdcb. “Some have fallen victim to predatory lending practices, some don’t have bank accounts, and others need to improve their credit score or establish a credit history.”
After Palacio’s initial meeting with the cdcb team, housing counselors put together a plan of action to build a new home, gave her the tools needed to become homebuyer ready, and checked on her progress monthly.
MiCASiTA offers a good solution for low- to moderate income homebuyers living in the rural “colonias,” many of whom can’t afford current market rates, Marín said. The cost of housing in Cameron County, for example, rose by 61 percent in 2021. MiCASiTA, which cuts costs by building the houses off site at a location called The Farm, allows clients to build as much home as their capacity permits, and gives them the opportunity to grow their home in the future.
A Model for Affordable and Green Homes
MiCASiTA provides an affordable housing solution to a region that has long suffered from steep housing challenges, which include crowded living spaces, uneven access to electricity, and inadequate water and sewer systems. Cameron County, the Palacios’ home, is one of four counties that make up the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. With a combined population of approximately 1.4 million, the percentage of people living in poverty in each county is higher than both the U. S. and the state of Texas.
“We believe MiCASiTA is the answer to homeownership for low-income families living in rural areas,” said Nick Mitchell-Bennett, cdcb’s executive director. “It could be also an answer to affordable rental housing in the future. It's a model of housing that allows families to start where they are today and grow into what they hope to be in the future.”
In addition to cost advantages and relatively quick process to build, the MiCASiTA modular homes are designed with environmental sustainability in mind and once built and installed, they can be certified to the Enterprise Green Communities criteria.
Although it was a long process, the Palacios remained optimistic as they waited for their new home. During the four years that she participated in the housing counseling program, Gloria Palacios established a credit profile, significantly raised her credit score, maintained a budget, and saved for a down payment. In December, their house was transported from The Farm to their property. Palacios was there when the modules arrived and even invited some neighbors to be there with her as the house was being assembled on site.
The Palacios moved into their home in March, and since then the enthusiasm for this new model of home continues to grow in the area. In fact, soon they won’t be alone - one of their neighbors is already working with cdcb to build her own MiCASiTA.