Habitat For Humanity heads effort to build 27-unit Basalt Vista affordable housing

Officials from Pitkin County and town of Basalt throw dirt at a groundbreaking for the Basalt Vista affordable housing project earlier this month.
Habitat For Humanity/courtesy photo

Dirt started flying this month in Basalt for an affordable-housing project that will provide 15 homes for teachers and another 12 for workers in Pitkin County.

The Basalt Vista project will provide coveted chances to buy rather than rent affordable housing. Two lotteries are anticipated, one for the school district and one by Pitkin County for qualified applicants.

The cost to the homeowners will be between $250,000 and $350,000 for the two-, three- and four-bedroom units, which are being built in duplex and triplex configurations. The targeted household incomes are between $60,000 and $105,000.

Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork is the developer of Basalt Vista. Chapter president Scott Gilbert said the organization has reset its vision over the years and is aiming to provide housing for valley residents who are “gainfully employed but can’t find affordable housing” rather than those in the throes of poverty.

“We’re going to lose that lower middle class if we don’t do something.” — Scott Gilbert, Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork

“We’re going to lose that lower middle class if we don’t do something,” he said.

The first units will be available to buyers by spring 2019.

While Habitat for Humanity is heading the Basalt Vista project, it’s the product of a one-of-a-kind partnership.

The Roaring Fork School District donated the land on the hillside south of Basalt High School. Pitkin County is providing funding for the road and utilities out of its affordable-housing account. Habitat for Humanity is serving as the developer, facilitating access to mortgages and raising funds to cover a gap between expenses and revenue from sales of the units.

Gilbert said he is particularly satisfied to be able to assist teachers.

“It’s personal for me. I taught school for five years,” he said. “I couldn’t afford a home or to start a family.”

He spend 25 years in the business world before “retiring,” moving to the Roaring Fork Valley and getting involved with Habitat.

Gilbert’s daughter taught school in Denver for 10 years, so he had additional insights into how tough it is to purchase a home while working as a teacher.

The problem is amplified in the Roaring Fork Valley, where housing costs are even further out of whack with incomes.

The Basalt Vista project was conceived in late 2015 after voters in the Roaring Fork RE-1 School District approved a plan to fund affordable-housing projects. Gilbert approached school officials with a plan to build housing on 4.5 acres of land the district owns but wasn’t utilizing.

Pitkin County was approached about helping and eventually entered the partnership with money to contribute in return for control of 12 units.

Rob Stein, superintendent of the downvalley school district, said 61 rental units have been acquired for use in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The Basalt Vista project provides something different and highly coveted — a way to own housing. He lamented that Colorado funding for schools is so low, it is a challenge for teachers and administrators to own homes in the communities where they work.

“This is a real pathway to ownership,” he said.

The rental and ownership units will make it easier to recruit and retain employees, Stein said. The school district won’t require that Basalt Vista buyers work in the Basalt schools, he said. Buyers must sell the units if they leave the employment of the district.

The plan is to complete the first nine homes in March. Additional units will be completed in phases.

The project’s estimated cost is $15.7 million, when including the land donation valued at $3.2 million. Sales of the units will raise about $8 million.

In addition to Pitkin County’s contribution of $2.75 million, Habitat contributed $1.8 million as well as its oversight of the project. Basalt reduced some building fees and expedited the review of the project.