That’s why we did it, because the folks in the Rio Grande Valley, the folks in Brownsville, the folks in these colonias out here, cannot continue to pay what houses are costing. This is the wave of the future in building homes.
Wednesday was a big day for Evelio and Gloria Palacios, who were feted by a small crowd gathered to welcome the couple into their new MiCASiTA home, located on Valle Hermoso Road in Southmost.
A podium and folding chairs were set up on the yard in front of the family’s new dwelling. Attendees included Precinct 1 Cameron County Commissioner Sofia Benavides and District 1 Brownsville City Commissioner Nurith Galonsky Pizana, both of whom also offered comments.
MiCASiTA is a program created by Come Dream Come Build, formerly the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, that helps low-income families buy quality, affordable homes.
The housing/lending program uses modular housing built off site in Los Fresnos, at a production facility CDCB has dubbed “The Farm.” The modules are then transported to the homesite and assembled, explained CDCB Executive Director Nick Mitchell-Bennett.
“It’s a factory technically … but we like to call it The Farm because it’s where we grow homes,” he said.
The method makes it possible for CDCB to build houses for 25 to 30 percent less than similar homes built conventionally, Mitchell-Bennett said.
“That’s why we did it, because the folks in the Rio Grande Valley, the folks in Brownsville, the folks in these colonias out here, cannot continue to pay what houses are costing,” he said. “This is the wave of the future in building homes.”
Grants from JPMorganChase and Wells Fargo totaling $5 million made it possible for CDCB to develop MiCASiTA over five years, Mitchell-Bennett said.
“(They said) we’re going to give you the money to figure out how to do this because this is that important,” he said. “We thank them for allowing us to do that. But we also would be remiss in not thanking Cameron County with the Colonia Self-Help Center. Cameron County has a been partner of CDCB’s since 1995 … and we have built hundreds of houses.”
Also, the city of Brownsville has partnered with CDCB since 1974, when the nonprofit’s first task was to find and eliminate outhouses in colonias, Mitchell-Bennett said.
“This is the culmination of … a long, long relationship between CDCB and Cameron County, CDCB and the city of Brownsville,” he said. “The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas is assisting us here with this, and … the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation did the small loan for this family outside of the $60,000 that was granted to the Palacios. Like always, CDCB is pulling people together, pulling organizations and state agencies and money together to make this kind of stuff happen.”
Two other MiCASiTA homes are currently under construction at The Farm, one of them essentially complete and ready for transport, he said. That home will go across the street from the Palacios residence, Mitchell-Bennett said.
“Expect to see these going up all the time,” he said. “We actually have eight clients already that we’re working with, counting the Palacios. We hope for you to be seeing these rolling down the street on the back of a truck, because that’s where it came from. It was built in Los Fresnos and was put on the back of a truck and brought here. It’s a very, very cool process.”
The MiCASiTA model has grabbed the attention of housing groups elsewhere in the United States, Mitchell-Bennett said, noting that 18 representatives from organizations in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, and from Native American communities in Arkansas and South Dakota, have been at CDCB’s offices this week learning about the program.
“We have folks … that are all there to learn how to do MiCASiTA and to literally buy a franchise from little old us down here in Cameron County, Brownsville, Texas,” he said.
The pandemic put a damper on things, though the program is back in action, Mitchell-Bennett said.
The biggest challenge now is high interest rates, which weren’t a problem before the pandemic but now have climbed to almost 7.4 percent for a 30-year fixed mortgage.
“Interest rates are really hard on low-income homebuyers, and so we’re trying to … get the assistance we need, get the credit enhancements that we need to actually help get lower interest rates for our buyers. A 7-percent interest rate is impossible for somebody who’s making $12 an hour. So if we can lower the cost of the house — what we’re doing here with MiCASiTA — then that makes it that much easier.”