Local legislators and government representatives spent a day building homes in Gypsum on 'Difference Maker Build Day'
Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley celebrated the substantial strides made in affordable housing policy this year by inviting local government representatives to a “Difference Makers” build day in Gypsum this past Wednesday.
State Rep. Dylan Roberts, Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry, and a number of other community leaders — including representatives from Eagle County School District and the town of Vail — showed up bright and early at the Stratton Flats neighborhood in Gypsum, exchanging their policy tools for power tools to help complete eight new units in the affordable housing development.
Legislator of the Year
Before getting started on the homes, Chris Bibbo, the deputy director of Habitat for Humanity Colorado, presented Roberts with the Legislator of the Year award for his leadership and accomplishments in passing transformational affordable housing policy during the latest state legislative session. Roberts served as chair of the Affordable Housing Task Force and was a prime sponsor on House Bill 1304, which allocates $178 million in grant funding for housing developments and initiatives throughout the state.
The influx of funding is already having a positive impact on Habitat for Humanity’s capacity for development in the valley. The nonprofit is completing eight units in 2022, and is tripling that number in 2023 with the additional state support. Twenty-four new units are planned for next year, the most ever in a single year, between the Stratton Flats neighborhood in Gypsum and 3rd Street in Eagle, all going to members of the local workforce.
The Legislator of the Year award is given out once a year to a state legislator who has done outstanding work in support of affordable housing, an apt description of Roberts’ efforts this past year.
“He’s been such an incredible champion for affordable housing, and he’s worked tirelessly and collaboratively to find creative and practical solutions to our housing crisis here in Colorado,” Bibbo said. “He helped to crack and pass the largest single-year investment in affordable housing in Colorado history. Thanks to Dylan’s excellent leadership, more Coloradans will have a safe, affordable place to call home.”
During his acceptance speech, Roberts was quick to share credit for his legislative victories, highlighting the ways that Habitat for Humanity helped garner support for bold state action.
“Habitat really engaged in the process and secured some major victories through the legislative process thanks to Elyse (Howard, development director of Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley) coming to testify, to the county commissioners here in Eagle County testifying about our unique needs here in Eagle County and in our mountain communities where we have such a higher cost of living,” Roberts said. “Without Habitat, there wouldn’t have been as meaningful an investment in affordable housing and affordable home ownership in the mountain communities.”
Chandler-Henry, who is also on the board of directors at Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley, noted that affordable housing remains at the top of the list for community priorities in Eagle County year after year. Habitat homes help to fill a particularly acute need for affordable home ownership and equity opportunities in the valley, as opposed to many developments that focus on rentals.
“Every single survey that the local government does, the No. 1 issue that comes back is housing — housing for the workforce, housing for families,” Chandler-Henry said. “Habitat makes home ownership possible. It makes it possible for families to build community and it makes it possible for communities to house their workforce, to embrace their families and to have that stability.”
Sweat and tears of joy
The “Difference Makers” in local government put in building hours right alongside the families that will be moving into the new homes, each of whom gave an emotional speech expressing their gratitude for the ability to own a permanent home in the valley.
Every Habitat for Humanity homeowner needs to put in 250 hours per adult of “sweat equity” towards the construction of their home, and many spend their days off after a long work week building their house. The effort is demanding, but the future homeowners ensured that the payoff of a stable home is worth every hour on the job.
Alejandra and Andres Lopez, a police officer in the town of Avon, are lifelong Coloradans raising two young children in Gypsum. Once the latest Stratton Flats units are completed, they will move in and become homeowners for the first time.
“Building our Habitat for Humanity home means the absolute world to us,” Alejandra Lopez said. “It means security, it means safety and stability but most importantly, as young parents, it means we will never have to worry about not knowing whether or not we will be able to put a roof over our kids’ heads.”
Karen Ruiz and her daughter, Brianna, were also putting in hours on Wednesday. Brianna, a second grader at Red Hill Elementary in Gypsum, wrote a letter to the legislators that reminded everyone what it truly means for a house to become a home.
“I am happy about getting a house because we can decorate the house beautiful for Christmas,” Karen Ruiz read from her daughter’s letter, tearing up as she spoke. “My favorite part of the house is the stairs because you can slide them or even climb … I am happy because one of my friends lives here. I hope Habitat will be successful in spreading kindness to everyone.”
With the completion of these eight units, the Stratton Flats neighborhood will contain a total of 48 completed Habitat for Humanity homes. There is space for 76 homes on the property owned by the nonprofit, and with funding from the state, officials plan to fill those lots as quickly as possible to create more happy endings like those of the Lopez and Ruiz families.
More hands, more homes
With the land, materials and expertise for the 24 planned units ready to go, the only ingredient needed to guarantee the organization meets its 2023 goals is a strong force of volunteer builders.
Habitat for Humanity has volunteer build days every week, Wednesday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Those interested in volunteering their time can sign up for volunteer slots online at habitatvailvalley.org.
For more information about volunteering, contact volunteer coordinator Cassie Scales at email@example.com.