Building techniques vary around the country. In the New Mexico desert where the Panteah, Nastacio and Sheche families built themselves homes over the past year using sweat equity along with government technical assistance and mortgages, snake wrangling became an unusually important skill when work was stopped to remove a rattlesnake from the foundation being constructed.

The ready-to-move-in snake was just one of many complications facing the three families on the Zuni Pueblo, a small American Indian reservation in gorgeous country south of Gallup, N.M. And while having three more self-help houses in the world may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, the project shows what can happen when borrowers, lenders and housing entities are committed to paving new ground.

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