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Habitat ready to help poor but can’t score cheap land

Habitat for Humanity has plenty of money to build homes for the needy in the Roaring Fork Valley, and it faces overwhelming demand. But the charitable organization has been stymied by a lack of land.

High real estate prices force the local chapter of the international organization to rely on gifts of land or sales significantly below market value. Neither the gifts nor discounts have rolled in during the local chapter’s three years of existence, according to Ray Limoges, president of the local chapter’s board of directors.

“It’s hard to get people excited about Habitat when we don’t have a house to build,” he said.

The chapter has managed to build two homes since it was founded in April 2000, one in the midvalley and one downvalley. The first project was a home in the Emma area for a single mother and her four children. The property for that home was donated by midvalley resident Ginny Parker.

A second house was completed in December 2002 at the Cardiff Glen development in Glenwood Springs. Developers Tom Stevens and John Baker of Studio Three donated a lot for a Habitat house. It’s now home for a single mom and two kids.

When Habitat builds a home, it requires the recipient to provide at least 250 hours of sweat equity labor. The buyer is given 20 years to pay off an interest-free loan. Habitat holds the mortgage and the house stays with the organization in case the original occupant sells out.

To be eligible, applicants must pass a credit check and be able to verify their salary via federal income tax returns. That eliminates eligibility by illegal immigrants.

Limoges said a Latino family has already been selected as the next recipient of a local Habitat home. A woman with two kids is sharing a trailer home with her mother and a sister with two other children in Glenwood Springs.

To qualify, a single-parent household must make between $15,000 and $30,000 at the current time. Limoges said the demand is incredibly high considering that single professionals such as starting teachers and deputies in Garfield County fall within that income level.

While building two homes in three years appears impressive, Limoges said local Habitat officials aren’t satisfied, given the demand that they know exists. The organization also has strong support from donors and volunteer laborers.

Limoges said local Habitat officials are confident that homes can be sold for $90,000 because costs are held down. Costs are controlled due to discounts on construction materials from local suppliers; donated or discounted labor from contractors, plumbers and electricians; and legions of locals willing to volunteer time during construction.

But holding the cost of homes down depends on cheap land. “Our problem is we can’t afford marketing price for land,” he said.

While landowners in Emma and Glenwood Springs have contributed to Habitat’s efforts, there have been no prospects in Pitkin County. Ironically, one of the wealthiest areas in the world hasn’t contributed land to one of the most highly regarded charitable organizations in the country.

In an area where land is so valuable, donations are hard to come by. The Basalt Town Council provides a good example. It was asked to let Habitat build a home on a lot it owns – and has sat on for several years – on Homestead Drive. The Town Council rejected the request, explaining that it had a fiduciary duty to citizens to use the property to house a town employee or use the sale of the land to build revenues.

Limoges said Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley is in a comfortable position regarding financial contributions. It has enough money reserved to start construction of a home immediately if it had a lot.

However, the organization isn’t sound enough financially that it doesn’t need additional help.

“We haven’t found a sugar daddy,” said Limoges. “But we like to raise money in five and 10 dollar increments because that brings community involvement.”

People who want to make financial donations can send them to Habitat for Humanity, P.O. Box 277, Carbondale, CO 81623. Landowners who can help can call Ray Limoges in Glenwood Springs at 384-0455 or Tim Whitsitt, co-chair of the Site Selection Committee, at 963-6363.

Additional information about the local chapter of Habitat is available on the web at http://www.habitatroaringfork.com.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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