TALMO — In what he calls "an earlier life," builder and developer Broughton Cochran was a social worker for the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services in Forsyth County.
He remembers the satisfaction of seeing people who were able to leave the welfare rolls and eventually get a home of their own.
Cochran, president of Sunrise Home Builders, spent his early days as a builder constructing starter homes. As the market grew, he built and developed larger upscale homes and communities.
Recently, Cochran has returned to his roots.
He is building what some are calling "work force" housing. Houses that are designed and priced for either young adults who are just starting out or for older adults on fixed incomes.
He is building in The Estates at Allen Creek, a subdivision off U.S. 129 near Talmo. The subdivision has a three bedroom, two bath home that sells for $159,800 and qualifies for financing under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Economic and Community Development Program.
The program is restricted to communities where the population is 20,000 or less. He might build in the Magnolia Station subdivision in Lula, he said.
"I have seen what a first home can do to someone and what a change it can mean in their lifestyle," Cochran said.
Most of the homes he has completed at Allen Creek have been purchased or are under contract.
The government program is based on household income and requires a decent credit history. It is one of the few programs still available that does not require a down payment.
The monthly payment for principal and interest can be as low as $520 per month under the program.
He admits that getting someone approved for the program is not easy, and that some builders are not willing to get involved because of the required paperwork.
"I thought this was a perfect time to get back into the program," Cochran said.
The mortgage payment for those who qualify is often lower than they might pay for rent. He said his biggest obstacle is convincing potential clients that the program is not a gimmick.
"We have to jump through a lot of hoops and help people with their applications. But we’re doing it," he said.
The price varies by county and is based on the median price of homes in the area.
"It’s a three bedroom, two bath home with a fireplace and dishwasher and microwave," he said. "It’s a regular conventional house."
Frank Norton Jr., a Gainesville real estate executive who follows economic trends, said there is a growing shortage of work force housing.
"Hall County is dependent upon work force housing for industrial and retail growth, as well as governmental and educator growth," Norton said, adding that there is a need for housing that is within reach of starting teachers, law enforcement officers and other professionals.
"We’re not talking about cheap housing. It’s good, solid, middle-class housing," Norton said.