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A reasonable place to live

Matt Terrell

PHOTOS: NWS Habitat PU 4-21-07, NWS Habitat2 PU 4-21-07EAGLE – Elizabeth Fessenden and her three sons have been living in a tiny two-bedroom trailer home with no plumbing. Her five-year-old sleeps in the dining room. It’s cramped and uncomfortable, but like many working families in Eagle County, she and her boys can’t afford anything better. Fessenden is a pre-school teacher at Mountain Tots and dreams of going back to college someday.Fessenden found a way though to build her family an affordable three-bedroom home through Habitat for Humanity. She was there to put up the frame of her new house at the Bluffs in Eagle, and on Saturday, she and a couple dozen volunteers were nailing siding onto the home of her future neighbors.There’s no feeling like building your own home, and helping someone else feels even better, Fessenden said.

“This has given me courage in my own life,” Fessenden said. “I know that I can do anything I set my mind to.”Now, going back to school is a reality. She plans on attending Mesa State College soon and earning a teaching degree.”It’s a miracle just to think about it,” Fessenden said.An easier lifeWith an affordable housing crisis in Eagle County, Habitat is only able to help a few families at a time.”Building five homes a year doesn’t crack the edge, but we know how to build affordable housing, and this is part of the solution,” said Elyse Howard, development director for Habitat for Humanity of Eagle and Lake Counties. “These families make the valley tick.”Habitat wants to become a bigger part of the solution though. It’s hoping to make that point to the local leaders charged with making the valley a reasonable place for working families to live.

The most difficult thing for Habitat to find is land to build on, which can often seem hopeless in a valley full of high prices and ski resorts. Developing partnerships with local governments can make that easier though.For instance, Habitat’s current project is building seven homes at the Bluffs in Eagle, which requires 10 percent of new housing developments to be designated as affordable housing. Eagle mayor Jon Stavney said Habitat was eager to jump in and help the developer out with that requirement.This push to get elected officials more aware of Habit’s unique but effective way of building affordable homes is why Rep. Dan Gibbs, Eagle County commissioners and several other government officials were invited to volunteer at the Bluffs Saturday on Habitat Builds Colorado Day.”We want them to let us come to the table, to keep Habitat in their mind,” Howard said.’Sweat equity’Habitat homes aren’t freebies – their future residents buy them and help build them. Families apply for these homes much like they would in a job search. They first have to show a need, that they are struggling, for whatever reasons, to make ends meet in the valley. Their current home might be overcrowded, maybe it’s in disrepair, maybe the family is spending 60 percent of its monthly income on a home.



Families selected for habitat homes must also show that they can provide a small down payment and keep up with monthly, zero interest mortgage payments. Habitat can afford this because of large donations and the countless volunteer hours from highly skilled contractors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians or any good-hearted soul wanting to help out.These families als have to work for their homes. Families must volunteer at least 250 hours with Habitat for Humanity, with at least 100 of those hours spent building.Habitat calls this “sweat equity,” and it’s an aspect of the program that most families come to love.”This feels so exciting – I love to build,” said Valentina Ramos, who was painting doors on Saturday. She’ll soon be moving into one of the Bluffs homes. “Me and my two girls live in Avon now, but we need a change.”Fessenden said she’s already put in at least 1,000 hours, much more than required. She loves being out there building and hopes to continue volunteering even when she’s moved into her new home.==========================================More than 30 million United States households face one or more of the following problems:-Cost burdens: paying an excessively large percentage of income on housing costs. More than 13 million households pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing.

-Overcrowding: the number of people living in the house is greater than the total number of rooms in the house. About 6.1 million households live in overcrowded conditions.-Physical inadequacy: severe physical deficiencies, such as having no hot water, no electricity, no toilet, or neither a bathtub nor a shower. One out of every seven poor families lives in severely physically inadequate housing.Source: Habitat for Humanity==========================================Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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