Habitat for Humanity: Staying focused on building community

A few weeks ago U.S. Highway 6 and I-70 shut down in both directions for hours due to a traffic accident that ignited a wildland fire causing gridlock, headaches and worry. The responses ranged from outrage at the inconvenience to concern for the drivers to patient understanding.

We are so grateful for the firefighters and law enforcement officers who worked to keep the fire from spreading and the incident from becoming a life-ending event. As everyone pivoted and rearranged plans, it became abundantly clear (if it hadn’t already been) that the layout of our valley can be problematic beyond traffic snarls.

The majority of our workforce, including the firefighters, first responders and law enforcement officers who we rely on to keep us safe, live downvalley — Eagle, Gypsum and further west. Until recently these homes were more affordable for young families. They could buy a home in Eagle or Gypsum.

The pandemic hit and homes that once were within reach doubled (or more) in value and suddenly were not attainable. This traffic accident highlighted some of the issues created when a critical workforce does not live near their work. For now, most of our workforce lives downvalley, but what happens when they are priced out and pushed farther away? Having our critical workforce living in Glenwood Springs, Leadville, Oak Creek, or beyond is not a sustainable option for our teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers and health care workers.

This forced migration is worrisome, but we’re focused on solutions. I applaud all the organizations that are making strides to help with increasing the number of housing units. I believe firmly in the benefits of homeownership — but before one owns a home, one needs a place to rent. Maybe a shared unit before someone finds their own place.

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Right now, there’s nowhere near enough places to buy or rent. People who are renting and may be ready to purchase a home can’t since there are no “starter” homes in Eagle County. Empty nesters who may want to downsize and sell their family home can’t — there are no moderately priced smaller homes. Add with the 7%-plus interest rates and there isn’t mobility; there isn’t movement along the housing continuum.

We can’t put the onus of building more homes on any one employer, government or organization. We need to figure out how to build more homes together. How do we foster conditions to partner to increase movement along the housing continuum, promoting social and economic mobility?

The conversation is shifting; funding is coming together. As we — the collective we — are building, we have the chance to determine what we want the future of housing in Eagle County to look like. We can be thoughtful and creative now for a bolder housing future. We have limited resources and as we build we should plan for the next phase and what our community will look like.

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We are working on housing solutions together. Colorado Mountain College is getting ready to open up its apartments. Coming soon to the rental market are Eagle County School District’s Miller Flats. Vail Health has 87 rental units coming on the market. The town of Vail is accepting renters for the Residents at Main Vail. Eagle County is in the planning phase of a development with homeownership opportunities in West Eagle.

I am excited about these projects and the way they can lead to a healthy housing continuum. As we celebrate new rental projects, we also have to think about how renters can move toward buying a home. Homeownership does so much: it builds equity, it increases the number of permanent residents — the people who will settle down here, build a life, and grow in their careers.

Elyse Howard is the director of development at Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley. Learn more about Habitat Vail Valley’s home-building efforts, doubling its building production — starting 46 homes in the three-year period. In 2023, there are 24 homes under construction – 16 modular homes in Eagle and 8 in Stratton Flats. Habitat homeowners work 250 sweat equity hours building their homes and the homes of their neighbors. Get involved at

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