Moving on up to Miller Ranch: One family’s Habitat for Humanity success story
How one Habitat house will wind up giving two families the home they needed at the right time
EDWARDS — Six years ago, the Jimenez family moved into their brand new Habitat for Humanity home at Stratton Flats in Gypsum.
It was the second Habitat house started in the neighborhood, but the first one to be occupied, mainly because of Omar Jimenez’s efforts. As part of the deal, when approved for a Habitat home a family agrees to put in 500 hours of sweat equity. Most people call in friends and family to meet that work requirement.
The Jimenezes did that and more.
“I put more hours into it than most people because I wanted to get it done, get it finished,” Omar Jimenez said. “We were living in Avon in a trailer home with roommates, and we had our daughter at the time.”
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For many families, Habitat move-in day marks the end of their housing story. But for the Jimenez family, it was just an opening chapter.
Last week the Jimenez family made their next homeownership step when they signed papers and moved into their new house in Miller Ranch. It was an extra exciting move for the family because Omar Jimenez now works in the IT department at the town of Vail and it was a long daily commute from Gypsum. His wife, Adriana Garcia Jimenez, works at June Creek Elementary School, where the couple’s two children — Sammy and Anthony — attend classes. The kids can actually spot their school from one of the upstairs bedrooms.
“Luckily both our jobs are going well and we knew it was time for another deserving family to take on our Habitat home. And it was time for us to expand,” Jimenez said. “We are so thankful to Habitat for having a home like that for us, and it’s time for another family to start their life there.”
“We are super excited for the Jimenez family,” said Emily Peyton, of Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley. “It’s the ultimate success story for Habitat to have a family to use their house as a stepping stone and then purchase a home on the open market.”
As they launched and then expanded their homeownership experience in Eagle County, the Jimenezes were smart consumers. They tapped into existing programs that help locals make the move to homeownership.
Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley typically sees 10 applications for every home it builds and the annual selection cycle runs from June through September. The organization has been building new homes at a rate of six houses per year, but by 2021, it hopes to up that output to eight houses per year.
Habitat families are selected based on need and ability-to-pay criteria. Homeowners buy their homes with a no-interest, no-profit loan from Habitat. Habitat collects monthly payments from homeowners and uses that money to help build new homes.
Peyton noted that like any other homeowners, Habitat families experience life changes — job changes, family needs, new opportunities — that necessitate the sale of their homes.
“We want people to make whatever life decisions that are best for them and their families,” she said. “Life happens so we are very supportive of our families, whatever life events occur.”
When a Habitat owner decides to sell, the organization has a first right of refusal to purchase the residence. Such circumstances are anticipated at original closing when Habitat owners sign documents that outline a predetermined formula for resale. Basically, the rules cap home appreciation amounts.
“The longer a family lives in a home, the more appreciation they earn,” said Peyton.
In the case of the Jimenez family, Omar and Adriana were able to combine their Habitat equity with money from the town of Vail’s employee down payment assistance program. Between both sources, they had a 20 percent down payment for their Miller Ranch residence.
Habitat has purchased back the Jimenez residence, and it will be added to the group of six new homes that will go to qualified families in 2020.
“The new family will still have to fulfill the sweat equity requirement,” Peyton said. “They just won’t be working on their own house, they will be working on whatever other construction is going on.
“This is a great opportunity for us to select one more family this year,” she added. “As everyone is aware, there is an incredible need for housing in this valley.”
The Jimenez new-home story is a classic tale of right place, right time. They are the proud owners of a long-vacant house on Wildcat Street in Miller Ranch. They will be the first people to live there in eight years.
According to Eagle County Housing Director Kim Bell Williams, JP Morgan Chase acquired the property in 2012 during the Great Recession.
“That was a very difficult time for the housing authority, trying to decide which houses to save,” she said. “At that time, we decided there was a different house to spend our money on.”
But that didn’t mean the Eagle County Housing Authority was willing to let the home slip out of its program.
“When we finally got through some of the influx of houses that were in trouble, we gave Chase a call,” said Williams.
That one call turned into a weekly ritual that lasted six years.
“We have actively tried to retrieve this property since 2013,” she said.
There was some confusion over the property ownership and difficulty locating the paperwork related to the residence.
“There were years when nothing was happening. The grass got high and the homeowners association dues were in arrears,” said Williams. “We knew it was empty, and we were trying for many years to get it back.”
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed to a sale, but the title work revealed HUD wasn’t the property owner. Eventually, the bank and the government agency worked out a deal with Eagle County.
“I really want to give props to the neighbors. Everyone agreed to take care of that property and keep an eye on it. It’s been a testimony to the community character of Miller Ranch. People take a lot of pride in the community,” said Williams.
Making themselves at home
When the paperwork and ownership issues were finally resolved, the Jimenez family were at the top of the county housing authority’s list of active buyers.
“Turning in an application with us is a lot of work,” Williams said. “It means you have documented your life in Eagle County, basically.”
The Jimenez family started that process a year ago.
“Omar has worked in Eagle County for a really long time. That’s how he got to the top of the 10 offers we received for 120 Wildcat,” said Williams.
The purchase price was $425,000 for the 2,220-square-foot single-family residence. That was non-negotiable.
“$425,000 was the price. If you came in and offered even $425,010 you would be eliminated from our lottery. The lottery is designed to level the playing field,” Williams said.
Omar Jimenez was thrilled that he had a shot at the property.
“You can’t find anything that low, even in Eagle or Gypsum, for that square footage,” he said.
Because the property was vacant for so many years, there are loads of fixer-upper projects ahead for Omar Jimenez. He is undaunted.
“We’re already doing some upgrades to it. It’s kind of a mess right now,” he said.
“We knew we needed to find someone who loved to paint,” said Williams. “We didn’t get to pick this family, but we couldn’t have picked a better one for this home.”
“The kids were so excited to have stairs in their new house” she continued. “In the 20 minutes that we were there before the closing, they must have run up and down the stairs 50 times.”
The Jimenez family is now part of one of the most stable neighborhoods in Eagle County. There are 282 homes at Miller Ranch, and there’s only a 10 percent average annual turnover. Homeowners generally remain in the neighborhood between eight and nine years. One-third of the people who live in Miller Ranch are original owners.
“On average in 2019, we have about 70 people with active applications, wanting to get into Miller Ranch,” said Williams.
As they settle into their new home — they moved the last box in at about 11 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18 and the kids started school the next Monday — the Jimenezes are setting up bedrooms and trying to find their stuff. They are also reflecting on their good fortune.
“We are so happy there are so many homeownership programs available. People don’t really know about all of them,” Jimenez said.
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When a crowd of around 500 people showed up in Vail on Tuesday night to join a protest march in support of Black Lives Matter, the gathering plainly violated Eagle County’s current COVID-19 recommendations.