Howard: Finding housing solutions for our community
Last month I was able to attend Habitat on the Hill — virtually — with 700 Habitat for Humanity affiliates. Even from 1,800 miles, we had a powerful, collective voice that called for adequate, affordable housing.
Housing is a unifying issue. Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan T.M. Reckford started the conference reminding us that housing is a nonpartisan issue: Everyone can identify with the need for a safe place to live, where they can thrive and contribute to communities that nurture all residents.
We shared ideas, listened with intent and the Habitat network conducted 400 Hill Day meetings with members of Congress and staff. While Habitat for Humanity is known for building homes, we are also strong advocates for home ownership — advocating for policy solutions to advance access to safe, decent and affordable homes.
Why? Because millions in the United States struggle with housing costs. Even before the pandemic, one in three families were paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Worse, one in six families were already paying half or more on housing — a level deemed “severely cost-burdened.”
We advocate for a continuum of housing solutions that promote social and economic mobility — the pipeline to go from renting to owning is disappearing. While we aren’t in the business of building rental units, we are looked at as a source for affordable homes and creative solutions.
What we believe and advocate for includes the following:
Housing can change lives and transform communities
It has never been more apparent than right now. 2020 was a challenging year for all, but imagine trying to quarantine in a substandard home or in an overcrowded space. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that a house is more than a home: It’s a place of refuge and learning. A stable home brings with it health benefits, fewer absences and better performance in school, less illness and a decrease in behavioral health problems. Studies show children who have lived in temporary accommodation for over a year are three times as likely to have behavioral health problems, including depression and anxiety, compared to their peers.
Home ownership can be a barrier or gateway to opportunity
Home ownership allows families to set down roots; allowing an employee to rise through the ranks; helping a person become a vested community member. Homeowners are community members who are more likely to vote and volunteer.
Our ability to build in Gypsum provides access to opportunity; that is access to education, health, health care and employment according to according to civil rights, housing, poverty and democracy expert john a. powell.
Housing is a means to building wealth
The median net worth of homeowners is 80 times larger than renters, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That same report shows that one of the biggest contributors to wealth is home equity. U.S. homeowners have an average net wealth that is 400% higher than that of renters with similar demographics and earnings, and home equity represents the largest proportion of wealth (34.5%) for U.S. households. powell further shared the impact of people living next to opportunity (or not) over decades is profound.
Habitat is committed to establishing partnerships
With property and building costs so high, working together is key for success. The local real estate market is shattering records. Housing has always been a costly and complex issue in Eagle County and affordable homes aren’t any less expensive to build, so our partnerships are invaluable. By working with a variety of partners, establishing strong public/private partnerships, we are helping create sustainable solutions for housing stability.
We teamed with Eagle County Schools in one such partnership: the district donated land, and Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley built 12 homes creating the opportunity for 12 Eagle County School District employees to become homeowners. We provided the construction know-how. The end result? Twelve families will call Grace Avenue home.
I am grateful to live and work in a community that values partnership and creative thinking to find solutions to make life better for local residents. As Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley looks toward the groundbreaking of our one hundredth home this summer, I am excited for our organization to continue to work with and for the community to provide housing stability for hundreds of children and their parents.
We’re committed to building strong and inclusive communities and hope you will join us. How? We’d love to have you volunteer at a job site, in the ReStore or in the office. Visit our website, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, sign up for our newsletter. Celebrate the completion of six homes and the groundbreaking of eight new homes this summer. We’ll see you there!
Elyse Howard is the development director for Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley, where she is committed to the belief that housing is vital to maintaining the health, economic and social vibrancy of our community. Habitat for Humanity is the only organization in Eagle County that has built permanently affordable homes every year for the past 26 years. Since our founding in 1995, we have built homes that house nearly 300 children. For more info, call (970) 748-6718, visit habitatvailvalley.org, donate, volunteer and shop at Habitat ReStore Vail Valley in Eagle.