County clears way for Habitat homes
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS ” A stalled affordable housing project is getting a half-million-dollar jumpstart.
The Board of County Commissioners will loan $500,000 to the nonprofit group, Habitat for Humanity, in hopes the group can begin work on 16 homes intended for local low-income families.
Habitat teamed up with developer Evelyn Pinney on the Fox Hollow project. Pinney planned to build a 21,000-square-foot commercial building, two employee housing units and two four-plexes, while Habitat for Humanity would build eight duplexes. The land for Fox Hollow is just off of U.S. Highway 6, on the south side near the Eagle River Mobile Home Park.
Pinney hoped to afford donating the land for the duplexes to Habitat by selling credits to other developers who need to meet Eagle County’s affordable housing requirements. But since the plan was approved in June 2005, Pinney has sold no housing credits and Habitat hasn’t been able to get started.
The loan will eventually be transferred to Pinney to pay for the land. The loan will be paid back to the county once she sells housing credits, said Elyse Howard, development director for Habitat for Humanity.
“We feel honored and pleased that the county has decided to step up and help us make this project a reality a lot sooner than it would have been reality otherwise,” Howard said.
Habitat plans to begin work on the project in June in hopes of having four duplexes ready for families by the end of 2008.
Affordable housing, and what role government should play, has become a much debated topic across the county. Part of that debate has been the role government should play in trying to create affordable housing.
Commissioner Peter Runyon said the lack of affordable homes for local residents has become “an enormous problem.” The county’s decision to loan Habitat the money was an appropriate one, because it could help the project get started and the county will eventually be paid back, he said.
The money came out of the county’s housing fund, which had a $900,000 balance.
Avon resident Cindy Miller was killing time outside with her 3-year-old son, Rider, near the Gore Range Brewery, while waiting for her husband to finish a dentist appointment. She paused for a moment when asked what the government’s role is in addressing the county’s lack of affordable housing.
“I think that it is the county’s job to build affordable housing,” Miller said. “But private businesses should also try to provide employee housing, too.”
Miller and her husband are renters, but would like to own a home in Eagle County ” if they could afford it. Miller said she wasn’t sure yet if her family would be interested in buying a home in Fox Hollow.
Runyon would like to see town leaders who are working with developers to consider using the county’s housing credit program to satisfy their own affordable housing requirements.
“Everybody’s a beneficiary of this program,” Runyon said.
While the loan might make things easier for Habitat, it won’t do much to help Pinney, who has faced several challenges since Fox Hollow was approved. She’s spent $1.5 million on development fees, but still can’t afford to break ground on her portion of the project.
Pinney’s had trouble selling housing credits, she said, because no projects with affordable housing requirements have been approved by the county recently.
Help from developers and public officials is key to Habitat’s success in Eagle County, Howard said.
Habitat’s last project was in the Bluffs development in Eagle. The developer and the town of Eagle gave Habitat a great deal on the land. That’s important because Habitat homes are not given away; families who buy a Habitat home help build their home and in turn receive a much more affordable mortgage than they might otherwise get.
Habitat homes are usually built on a budget of less than $200,000, while the land in Eagle Ranch alone goes for about $200,000, Howard said.
“In order to build (the homes) so they are affordable, we have to find a way to get the land for less than market value,” Howard said. “It’s fair to say without creative solutions, and government entities, we couldn’t buy land off the street.”
Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 748-2936, or firstname.lastname@example.org.