‘We made it in the valley’: Basalt Vista housing project vital to keeping working families in Roaring Fork Valley

The Basalt Vista affordable housing project has been vital to keeping working families in the Roaring Fork Valley

Jeremy and Lyssa Duncan were determined to figure out a way to settle in the Roaring Fork Valley despite the usual — and formidable — housing obstacles.

The 30-something couple had two young kids crammed into an 850-square-foot apartment. One of the kids was sleeping on a specially crafted piece of plywood fitted over the bathtub. The pandemic meant Jeremy was working from home on a card table set up in a closet.

Jeremy works in the IT department for the Pitkin County government. Lyssa has been an eighth-grade teacher at Aspen Middle School since 2008.

They considered themselves lucky because they secured their tiny apartment through the Aspen School District. Nevertheless, they knew it wasn’t a long-term solution. They lived there for four-and-a-half years.

“We were pretty nervous about it,” Jeremy said. “We knew we were going to outgrow it.”

They kept entering and losing out in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority lotteries.

“We’d been playing the lottery for over six years,” Jeremy recalled.

Then, good fortune came calling last year for the couple. The Duncans were selected to buy one of the units at the new Basalt Vista project. They moved into their four-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot unit about four months ago. The kids have their own bedrooms. There is space for Jeremy’s office. They were able to remain close to midvalley friends they made over the years.

“We talk about it daily — we made it. We made it in the valley,” Lyssa said. “In our world, (housing) is the puzzle piece you have to figure out.”

With prices topping $500,000 for entry-level homes, it’s tough for young couples to come up with the down payment. The heavily subsidized Basalt Vista housing project was critical for keeping vital workers in the valley. The units are selling for $250,000 to $370,000 depending on size. There are two-, three- and four-bedroom units. Home prices are tailored to family income and the size of the household. They are deed restricted to 3% annual appreciation to provide some equity for current owners and keep them affordable for future owners.

Basalt Vista is likely a model for what it is going to take for the valley to dent its affordable housing shortage.

The project was an unusual beast made possible only through multi-jurisdiction collaboration. Roaring Fork School District made land available immediately south of Basalt High School, a contribution worth roughly $3 million. Pitkin County contributed $3 million to infrastructure. Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork provided a $4 million subsidy to keep the residences affordable, according to Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork president Gail Schwartz. Basalt town government waived some planning and building fees. Holy Cross Energy took steps to ensure the project was all-electric and a net-zero power consumer. The units exceed code requirements for energy efficiency.

The result is a 27-unit affordable housing project providing a toehold for 12 families so far. Six additional units will soon be completed and filled. Habitat will start construction soon on the third and final phase of nine units.

The school district has control of 14 of the units because of its contribution of the land. In the final phase, the school district will select buyers for seven of the nine units.

Basalt Vista was a groundbreaking project for the nonprofit Habitat Roaring Fork.

“It has certainly shifted us from one home at a time built by volunteers to building a neighborhood,” Schwartz said. “With partners, we’re making an impact and building a community.”

Schwartz hopes Basalt Vista isn’t the last collaborative effort in the valley, since the need is so great. Nothing is currently ready for construction.

“Land is probably our biggest hurdle,” she said. It also would help provide housing by dropping government planning and building fees, she said.

Habitat’s best current prospect for a multi-residence project is in Rifle. Longtime Basalt-based developers Paul Adams and Clay Crossland donated land in Rifle to Habit for Humanity Roaring Fork. Schwartz said the site could accommodate as many as 30 units.

For now, Schwartz and her team are concentrating on completing Basalt Vista. Project manager Jake Ezratty said the major volunteer work days the nonprofit has relied upon for so long have been put on hold this winter because of the pandemic. Instead, a Habitat crew of 10 is constructing the units with an assist from some socially distanced homeowners. Per Habitat rules, people who are selected for a unit put in 250 hours per person, 500 hours per household in sweat equity to buy down the purchase price.

Ezratty said volunteers would be incorporated again when there’s more outdoor work to be performed and they can work safely.

The first phase of Basalt Vista, the nine units on the east end of the project, has coalesced into a neighborhood. Heather Short and Keith Gabel were among the first couples to move in, about 19 months ago in August 2019. They have a young son.

“It’s cool to see the development take form,” Gabel said.

The high school soccer field is in their backyard. The sledding hill used by generations of Basalt kids is nearby. There’s a community garden to the west and wide-open views upvalley to the east. A new trail was carved into Light Hill behind Basalt Vista last summer. The housing project is perched up on the hillside, providing commanding views of Basalt and all the midvalley.

“When there’s a really radical sunset, everybody is out on their decks,” Gabel said.

Like the Duncans, Short and Gabel were determined to find housing in the valley they consider home. Their dream came true with Basalt Vista.

“We just love it,” Gabel said. “It’s our little house in the mountains.”


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