Lawmakers, Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley volunteers join thousands for national work day
State Rep. Dylan Roberts says doing work on local homes makes new affordable housing legislation 'real'
GYPSUM — That dirt under those volunteers’ fingernails was real. So are the families they’re helping.
Dozens of local volunteers — elected officials and local government staffers — dug into the soil Thursday to help at four Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley’s Stratton Flats sites. The volunteers did landscaping, weeding, gardening — some of the things that make a house a home.
Thursday’s event was one of 14 across Colorado. It’s all part of the Cost of Home campaign for Habitat, which has 1,400 affiliates nationwide. The Cost of Home campaign focuses on the cost of housing relative to household income.
Habitat’s goal is to improve home affordability for 10 million people over the next five years, said Chris Bibbo, with Habitat for Humanity’s state organization.
Nearly 19 million U.S. households spend half their income on housing. In Colorado, it’s one in seven households, Bibbo said.
Giving a hand up
Among those getting a hand up are Nancy Rodriguez and her husband, Alvaro, one of Habitat Vail Valley’s new local partner families. Nancy Rodriguez addressed Thursday’s volunteers to put a face to their work. She and her husband were considering leaving the valley, which would move their two small children away from their extended family. The work of the hundreds of volunteers and their own sweat equity will make it possible for them to stay, Nancy Rodriguez said.
While the volunteers got their fingers in the soil, Stefan and Katy Hiatt with Plantivity backed up their truck for the fourth straight year to provide landscaping material, trees and bushes.
Things like a tree to lie under help make homes more welcoming and the neighborhood more of a community, Stefan Hiatt said.
High praise for local reps
Elyse Howard, development director for Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley, pointed out that Habitat is not a political organization, but she had high praise for four bills that state lawmakers passed last session, including HB-1322, sponsored by Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon, to expand the supply of affordable housing.
“This makes it real. Being out here and helping today makes it so much more real than words on bill paper,” Roberts said.
Roberts’ bill, along with other three, will funnel more than $156 million to affordable housing over the next three years, the most significant investment in Colorado in decades, Bibbo said.
“Habitat for Humanity of Colorado is grateful to the legislators this session who recognized the housing crisis Colorado is facing and worked so hard to find creative and practical solutions,” said Karen Kallenberg, Colorado’s Habitat executive director.
Currently, Habitat for Humanity is working in the Stratton Flats neighborhood in Gypsum and will build 40 homes there when all is said and done.
How to become a partner family
To qualify for a Habitat home, family income has to be between 35% and 80% of the area’s median income — $75,200 per year for a family of four at the top of that range.
Partner families have to work at least 250 hours per adult, building their home or other work for the organization. They then buy the home at a zero-interest mortgage, originated by the local Habitat affiliate, to pay off the construction costs.
“We build homes, community and hope,” Howard said. “We see our homeowners rising to the occasion. Once the basic need of housing is met, they can turn their energy to their community.”
Since 1995, when the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate was founded, it has built 74 units. The four homes where Thursday’s volunteers did work bring that total to 79 homes. More than 250 local kids live in those Habitat homes.
The Habitat Vail Valley work is shifting to the 2.3 acres in Gypsum that Eagle County Schools donated. Habitat volunteers will build 12 townhouses over the next two years, then return to Stratton Flats for more projects.
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.