Vail Valley’s Habitat for Humanity expands eligibility rules | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley’s Habitat for Humanity expands eligibility rules

EAGLE COUNTY — The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity can only build six homes per year. But the local nonprofit for 2017 will expand the number of families who can apply for a home.

Habitat for Humanity's family guidelines include income, the ability to pay a mortgage — carried by the nonprofit at zero percent interest — and the willingness to partner with the nonprofit. Every adult in a Habitat family is required to contribute 250 hours of labor to the nonprofit, which can include construction, work at the group's ReStore thrift shop or other work.

For the past six years, the income guideline required that families earn between 35 percent and 60 percent of the area median income.

Julie Kapala, the communications and events manager for the local chapter of Habitat, said that over the past few years a number of families have applied to participate, but haven't met the income guidelines.

Kapala said Habitat's board of directors and selection committee every year reviews criteria for participating families.

"The criteria hadn't changed in six years," Kapala said. "We realized that Habitat for Humanity International would let us go to 80 percent (of area median income)."

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In Eagle County, that means a family of four can earn up to a maximum of $70,720 per year.

Still a shortage

That level of earning still leaves most families far short of being able to afford a home. Over the past few years, the gap between the area median income and the median price of a local home has become a chasm. For 2015, that gap was more than $230,000. The gap has more than doubled in just a handful of years.

The change in income guidelines will open up the application process to a lot of local families, including those who applied in previous years.

Kapala said the group often encourages families that haven't made the cut in one year to re-apply in the future. That encouragement will often come with advice about ways a family can build its credit or other items on the approval checklist.

Now, though, families that earned a bit too much in the past can re-apply for 2017.

While the process has opened up, there are still far more applicants than available homes.

For the 2017 building season, 36 families have already applied for the six homes to be built. With an application deadline of Oct. 28, more families will certainly apply.

But the families accepted into the program become long-term residents and neighbors.

Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley Executive Director John Welaj said in the 21 years the nonprofit has been building homes in the valley, there have been only three defaults, and only a handful of families have moved.

For those who do move, Habitat returns all the principal a family has paid in its mortgage. The nonprofit and the family split any of the limited appreciation on the home. The home is then re-sold to an applicant family, but the family still must meet all of Habitat's income, repayment and work requirements.

Broadening scope

The number of homes built has grown, too.

Welaj, who's been the nonprofit's local director for about a decade, said early building projects averaged about one per year. Over the past 10 years or so, the group has built 16 homes at Fox Hollow in Edwards and another 30 at Stratton Flats in Gypsum.

Habitat several years ago purchased 40 lots at the Gypsum neighborhood. That means there will be another six-home season in 2017, with the final four homes to be built in 2018.

Those homes, like all Habitat homes, are built with mostly volunteer labor, from design to construction. Much of that labor is professionals taking time off from their own work.

"We're using the same people who are building trophy homes at Beaver Creek," Welaj said.

Not everything can be done by volunteers, though. Kapala said Habitat works with suppliers and contractors to find the best prices on what it has to buy.

The Habitat model is established in the valley, but there's always important work to do in order to keep building homes.

The biggest challenge, as always, is land. Welaj said Habitat could buy more lots at Stratton Flats, but there's a person on staff dedicated to land acquisition. And the thinking at the nonprofit these days extends beyond land donations or purchases.

"We're trying to get more involved with county and town partnerships," Welaj said, adding that the group has talked with local governments and other groups from Vail to Gypsum.

"We'd like to partner with towns and cover that part of their (housing) need," Welaj said. "We aren't a typical developer. We aren't looking to turn a certain profit … We're kind of poised to fill that role."

The new rules

The Vail Valley branch of Habitat for Humanity has income requirements that applicants for new homes must meet.

The old requirement was that families could earn between 35 percent and 60 percent of the area’s median income. The new requirement allows families to earn up to 80 percent of the area’s median income. For 2017, a family of four can earn a maximum of $70,720.

Applications for 2017 homes will be accepted until Oct. 28.

For more information, call 970-748-6718, or go to http://www.habitatvailvalley.org.