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Howard: The path to home

Recently I was talking with a peer, who loves living here and is contributing to our community. He has a stable, “professional” income. He’s lived and worked here for more than a decade; he has worked his way up in his profession. His salary has roughly tripled since he entered our professional workforce.

He has done all the right things — saving diligently and paying down student debt. However, because of double-digit price increases year after year, he stated without a doubt that he is further from owning a home in Eagle County today than he was when he arrived.

His story hit me like a ton of bricks and has stuck with me. If a mid-career professional has a hard time purchasing a home here in our valley, what hope do low- to moderate-income individuals have? We are losing people that make up the very fabric of our community because they cannot put down roots here.

In 2018 it was estimated that Eagle County was short 5,900 affordable housing units. I am quite sure that number hasn’t improved over the past four years. I’m sure I don’t have to say it, but housing prices have skyrocketed since that time. Investors and remote workers are buying homes that once belonged to locals — they’re bringing cash to the table and offering over the asking price.

Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley is a builder of permanently affordable homes — we believe in the power of homeownership. The cost is the same to build one rental unit and one homeownership unit. However, homeownership has positive ripple effects for families, neighborhoods and the community that far outweigh the benefits of a rental unit.

Homeownership is transformational. Beyond having a safe space, a home is everything. It’s a place where we gather with friends, where we share our private moments. It’s a foundation for the future.

Health

A home free from toxins and hazards allows people to thrive. Children raised in an unhealthy environment are diagnosed more frequently with asthma, chronic diseases and injuries. “A stable, affordable home is a prescription for good health,” Dr. Megan Sandel believes. Young children in families who move frequently are more likely to be in fair or poor health and have developmental delays, she shares.

Mental health

An unstable living environment — when one has to move frequently or doesn’t have a home base — may lead to depression, anxiety, increased alcohol use, psychological distress and even suicide. Poor mental health is evident in both adults and children, through acting out and disruptive behavior.

Education

Studies show a stable home helps children do better in school with fewer absences. Children from stable homes are more likely to graduate from high school. Habitat Colorado found that 71% of Habitat homeowners believe their children will go onto higher education and 98% saw a positive impact on their children’s school performance.

Community involvement

Habitat families report being more involved in their community, with more time to dedicate to outside interests, whether volunteering in the neighborhood, at their children’s schools or with other organizations.

The Habitat Factor

Although it seems harder than ever to own a home in Eagle County, Habitat Vail Valley is making inroads to help locals build a solid future here. We opened our application cycle July 1 for families making between 35% and 80% of the Area Median Income — that’s up to $89,450 for a family of four. No homeowner will ever pay more than 30% of their gross annual income toward a mortgage. And they build equity. If a Habitat homeowner moves on, they can bring a down payment. Our homes aren’t sold on the open market — we sell it to another Habitat family.

We continue our partnership with Eagle County School District for a program that encourages teachers to become Habitat homeowners. Educators earning up to 100% of the AMI — up to $112,000 for a family of four — can fill out an application with weight given to their employment with the school district.

Eight families are currently building their homes in Stratton Flats. Soon we will have 16 additional homes under construction at Third Street in Eagle. I can’t express enough how much we want families to visit with us, to apply for a home and to put roots down in this community. We encourage everyone to learn more and apply. Some homeowners have worked with us for two or more application cycles, to finally be chosen.

For more information or if you want to talk about opportunities for creative partnerships to build affordable for-sale homes, email me at Elyse@HabitatVailvalley.org. We believe in partnerships and the positive benefits they bring. We are excited to work with families, helping them achieve the dream of homeownership.

Elyse Howard is the director of development for Habitat Vail Valley. Since 1995, the organization has built 100 homes, providing safe housing for 377 children. Learn more at habitatvailvalley.org.

Romer: Vista project provides opportunity for community engagement

A thriving community is focused on its people and needs a common vision of what it aspires to be. Combine these together — our people, and our common vision — and you can see why I’m excited about Eagle County’s Vista project.

From its website, Vista is a bold reimagining of how community members and decision makers can work together to produce realistic, effective outcomes. It invites residents and leaders to come together more frequently and conversationally to create solutions.

Vista seems to embrace and develop a culture of dialogue and civic engagement throughout Eagle County that will serve better, more community-led decision making for years to come. The goals of the program are to articulate a shared vision for the future, strengthen the civic capacity and leadership of our community, engage historically disenfranchised and disproportionately impacted communities, enable meaningful progress and impact in addressing inequitable systems, and to leverage findings into other Eagle County Government planning efforts.

Eagle County will act as the primary convener for Vista in partnership with towns, municipalities, nonprofits, businesses, local organizations, and community members to help facilitate a regional feedback-driven process. While Vista will continue to evolve to meet future needs as they arise, its initial focus is to develop the county’s Comprehensive Plan, promote participation in community development, rebuild the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and improve equitable access.

I have been participating in the Vista project and have been impressed by the efforts thus far. Eagle County is bringing together people across the region to ensure that Vista reaches as much of the community as possible. Essentially, Vista is an engagement project aimed at collecting feedback from the community to bring back to decision makers to help shape the policies that affect them on a daily basis.

Vista is focused on a few key community priority areas including traditional vision project goals such as county planning efforts and COVID recovery. Engagement with the Vista project will help the community weigh in on the Comprehensive Plan, land-use regulation, strategic priorities, and other factors that create a blueprint that defines how our community grows. 2020-21 has been an extremely challenging time. How can we come together to rebuild after COVID to create a more resilient economy that works better for all?

Importantly, Vista will also focus on creating a community vision and equitable access. A thriving community needs to listen to its citizens to understand what your vision is for the future of Eagle County.

What do you love about the community? What would you like to see change? How can we become better at creating equitable, accessible and culturally relevant spaces for all to participate in local government? The Eagle County team is committed to reaching out to and addressing the needs of historically excluded populations including people of color, youth, older adults, under-resourced and differently abled people.

It is important to understand what our community feels is important to help focus on these critical issues. The plan is to dive deeper into these themes to further define the problems and examine potential solutions. This feedback will be delivered to decision makers as they adopt new or revised policies.

Vista creates an opportunity to get involved in the community and to help drive the future of Eagle County. Everyone deserves a thriving community and a shared vision of what we want to be; otherwise, we’re just a group of individuals living in the same geographical area.