By Tony Lopez

COLUSA COUNTY (CBS13) — Dozens of families trying to realize the American Dream are running into a nightmare when it comes to building a home in Colusa County.

Say hello to 3-year-old Caine Ambriz. The wind almost knocked the little guy down, but the winds of change are whistling through the fields at the corner of Willow Wood and Smoky Hollow in the town of Arbuckle.

Cain’s mother feels like she just ran into a breath of fresh air. Onelia Ambriz has been chosen to become part of a program where she and her husband and four children can help build their very first home.

It’s called self-help housing and it’s planned for the well-kept, but underdeveloped neighborhood. Working families like the Onelias who can’t afford a down payment are given a shot at home ownership.

“It’s a great program where they build their own homes–they end up with sweat equity in the end just like a Habitat For Humanity type program,” said Donald Terry with the nonprofit group Neighborworks.

The new home would mean the world to Onelia.

But according to Colusa County officials, the plans aren’t good enough as the Planning Commission denied the project.

It’s baffling to Terry. His agency bought the land and can’t wait to put hammer to nail. But Colusa County officials say the plan violates a newly adopted zoning ordinance because the proposed homes are “not compatible or complementary to the neighborhood.”

County officials declined an on-camera interview on the issue.

In the area are model homes in a development that went bankrupt. For the past six years, the overgrown empty lot has been their neighbor. The location is near the high school and down the street from an elementary school.

Rob Wiener with the California Coalition For Rural Housing says the 50-year-old program has helped more than 10,000 families find home ownership.

“The mutual self-help housing program is I think one of the best housing programs we have in the United States,” he said. “The homes that are built are high-quality—typically equal to or better than homes that exist in many communities.”

In communities like Arbuckle where more than 100 families are on a waiting list to join the program, they’re waiting for the plans to be approved.

That day can’t come soon enough for Onelia and her family who are waiting and willing to do the hard work.

“That would be awesome to be able to tell your kids one day that you actually helped to build your home,” she said.

The group’s appear will be heard on March 8 by the Colusa County Board of Supervisors. If that’s denied, Neighborworks says it has lawyers standing by ready to take it to court.

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