Community building community
The modest duplex unit still under construction on Third Street in Eagle is more than a future home for Frances Trevizo and her family. It’s the fulfillment of a dream for the Trevizos, and fulfillment of a community commitment for Habitat for Humanity of Lake and Eagle Counties.
“I never expected them to select me and my family … this just came to my life in the right moment,” says Trevizo, 39, a divorced mom with three sons: Rodolpho, 17, Ernesto, 14, and Ramiro, 6.
Habitat for Humanity is an international, nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization that relies on volunteer labor along with donations of money and materials to build affordable housing for qualified families. Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit; and are financed with no-interest loans.
The Eagle and Lake County affiliate of Habitat was founded in 1995. The organization has built one home in Gypsum and eight in Leadville. The Trevizo home, located at the crest of the hill directly across from the fire station, is the group’s first project in Eagle and the second Habitat home in Eagle County.
Construction on the home, which is half of a duplex, started in October and is expected to be completed sometime this summer.
Trevizo, originally from Juarez, Mexico, has been in the United States, where all of her children were born, for a number of years. She has spent the last two years in the Vail Valley, where she works for the wallboard plant in Gypsum. She came to the valley seeking a better life and opportunity for herself and her children, she says.
The soft-spoken Trevizo had been searching for a home that she could afford to buy for some time. Currently, she rents a unit in the Holy Cross apartments at Gypsum, an affordable housing complex built by the Catholic Archdiocese. She had a goal common to many families in the valley: to get out from under paying rent and into a home of her own.
The challenge was finding something that was within her budget. Her initial search yielded only homes with prices that would have required more than one job in order to make the payments.
“It would have been a struggle. A house is to be enjoyed. I wanted a home for the boys … not just a place to go to sleep,” Trevizo explains.
Then she happened across an advertisement seeking applicants for the Habitat home under construction in Eagle. Doubting that she could qualify for the home, she filled out an application on the last day before the deadline. Hers was one of a couple of dozen applications.
“I think you have to look for your own opportunity. It’s not going to come and knock on doors,” she says.
Habitat generally selects partner families whose incomes fall between 25 and 50 percent of the median of the community where the house is located. Applicants are evaluated using a set of criteria that includes an assessment of current living conditions, ability to pay a mortgage, and the willingness of the family to invest a significant number of “sweat equity” hours in the construction of the house.
Applicants also go through an interview process. Thinking it was unlikely that her family would be chosen, Trevizo nevertheless followed through. It was with some trepidation, on the day the decision was to be made, that she called the local Habitat chapter’s executive director, Tom Healy, to inquire which family had been selected.
When Healy first read her name, it didn’t register. Then the reality of the good news hit.
“I said, ‘Oh, that’s me,'” recalls Trevizo with a laugh, “This is the best thing. It’s wonderful. We will have our own place.”
There was a little time for rejoicing, and then the serious work began.
Make no mistake, acquiring a Habitat for Humanity house does not equate to a hand-out. “That’s a common misconception. What we are giving is really a helping hand,” Healy says.
The selected Habitat family must provide a down payment, then commit to a mortgage, which Habitat offers in the form of an interest-free loan. The homeowner’s monthly mortgage payments go into a revolving fund that is used to build more houses.
Habitat also requires a specified number of “sweat equity” hours from the family, including the children. Frances Trevizo, therefore, joins the host of volunteers from community organizations that have been doing the hammering and sawing. Tasks for her kids range from physical work to picking up nails and construction trash, writing thank-you notes and greeting volunteer workers.
“I like that. I have met a lot of nice people,” says Trevizo, who is profuse in her thanks to all the people who work for Habitat – from the volunteers with the hammers to the people who attend committee meetings and run the office.
Her kids, like any other kids in the world, have at times lapsed into a bit of grumbling about their sweat equity hours. “Maybe they don’t like it now. But later, they will say, ‘We worked on that house.’ It is something to be proud of,” says Trevizo.
Volunteers were able to close in the outside walls and roof before winter hit. The interior is still just framed wall divisions and hundreds of hours of work remain.
Walking though the unfinished home, Trevizo proudly points out the views of Castle Peak and the Flat Tops. Noting that she is originally from a big, and somewhat dangerous city, she’s looking forward to living in a community where her kids can go out and play without fear. She speaks optimistically of taking some college classes once she is settled in her new residence. Currently a legal immigrant to this country, she plans to pursue her American citizenship.
“I want a degree and a career, so I can be useful to this country,” she says.
‘A better life’
The donated materials, volunteer work and interest-free loan help to make the houses affordable, Healy says. The homes Habitat built in Leadville ended up in the $90,000 to $100,000 range. He expects the final cost of the home in Eagle to be somewhat higher, because of the higher cost of land.
In this instance, the land was made available through the generosity of the lot owner, the Upper Eagle Valley Water District. That entity owns the completed duplex unit that adjoins the Trevizo home for employee housing. If and when the Trevizo family ever decides to move away from the house, the Water District would have the first right to buy the unit from Habitat.
Healy calls Trevizo an “ideal candidate” for a Habitat home. He also says it is not unusual for Habitat families to get a sort of “new lease on life” with home ownership, with job promotions, kids performing better in school and other positive changes.
“They just break out of that poverty cycle that a lot of families find themselves in,” he notes.
The local Habitat chapter is working hard to build more homes. Now, it builds an average of two a year, but, Healy said, they’d like to put up 8 to 10 houses annually by 2008.
Still, Healy notes, statistics indicate there are some 1,300 families in the valley that fall into the 25 to 50 percent of median income bracket. There are only about 100 homes listed at $100,000 or less.
“There is a huge need out there,” he says. He would like to see the current participation in local Habitat projects translate into more people taking a leadership role in creating awareness of the problem and development of solutions, he said.
Meanwhile, Trevizo says she is looking forward to owning her own home.
“I came here looking for a better life for me and my kids. This is a good place to raise a family,” she says.