Work continues on the 20 homes being built at Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley's Wapiti Commons affordable housing project in South Rifle earlier this week. The first units are expected to be occupied by year's end. Photo by John Stroud

Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley is all about changing the regional affordable housing game. A  new giving campaign plus plans to build a modular home manufacturing plant in Rifle might move the game piece forward several more spaces.

Recently, Habitat RFV launched its new 1% “Sell a Home, Help Build a Home” campaign, partnering with real estate brokers in the area who have committed to donate 1% of their net sales commission to the cause of building affordable homes in the region.

Brokers are asked to commit to the program for at least a year, and their clients (buyers and sellers) can also contribute to the campaign through real estate transactions.

“It really is an opportunity for the real estate community to reinvest in our communities when it comes to affordable housing, and to be a part of that solution,” Habitat RFV President Gail Schwartz said.

Already, more than 40 brokers have volunteered to participate in the program, and two brokerages — Coldwell Banker Mason Morse and Sotheby’s International Realty — are matching what their brokers contribute.

Longtime Coldwell Banker Mason Morse broker Nancy Emerson of Carbondale is among the participants. 

“I believe that we have a housing crisis in the region, and this is something I can do to address that problem in some small way,” Emerson said.

She chose to allocate her donations to help develop the new manufacturing facility in Rifle.“I felt like that will address two concerns, one being to create housing and the other being to develop job skills, which I think is critical as well,” she said.

Schwartz said the manufacturing facility, for which the City of Rifle agreed this summer to lease 10 acres for $1 a year, will be a true game changer.

Habitat is partnering with the Colorado River Board of Cooperative Education Services’ EPIC (Educational Pathways to Innovative Careers) program and Colorado Mountain College to not only build up to 100 new homes per year, but to develop construction job skills in the process.

The program aims to train up to 50 individuals per year, and bring 27 full-time jobs to the Rifle area.

“This combination of bringing together workforce training and having people certified in the building trades, which we’re so desperate to have, and building houses for people who need them … it’s a pretty exciting concept,” Schwartz said.

Off-site construction should also help to bring down construction costs, which are ever increasing, she noted. A large modular home production facility in Idaho is helping to design the facility and develop an operating plan. Hopes are to break ground in the spring.

Another goal is to produce homes that are net-zero in terms of energy use, with super tight construction, solar access and other energy efficiencies. Already, residents of Habitat’s Basalt Vista project next to Basalt High School report their monthly utility bills are just $14, Schwartz said.

Habitat also remains committed to acquiring land and building homes to sell to qualified buyers whose households are making 80% of the area median income (AMI). It’s not easy. “I heard just today that the construction cost in Aspen is $2,800 a square foot,” Schwartz observed. “We’re building for $300 a square foot, and we sell for $200 a square foot, and so we have a gap.”

That gap is made up through fundraising and grants, while proceeds from home furnishing sales at its Habitat ReStore go to cover overhead expenses, she said. Habitat’s current housing projects in Rifle and Glenwood Springs have also been awarded Enterprise Zone status, which means a larger portion of donations can be claimed for charitable deductions on taxes.

Meanwhile, Habitat is forging ahead with two on-site projects, Wapiti Commons in South Rifle and the Confluence project at Eighth Street and Midland Avenue in Glenwood Springs.

Wapiti Commons is in the final stages of construction, with the first closings expected to come before year’s end. The project includes 10 townhomes and 10 condominium units, all with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) accessibility. 

Homes are reserved for people who work in the Rifle area, and five of the homes are reserved for specific employers, including Garfield County, Alpine Bank and bicarbonate producer Natural Soda, through funding partnerships. Agreements stipulate that homeowners do not have to sell their homes if their employment situation changes, and they remain in Rifle. 

“That way we’re not handcuffing home ownership with their employment,” Schwartz said.

Employer partners would have first priority when those homes do go up for sale, she said.

Currently, two townhomes and four condos are still available at Wapiti Commons for qualified buyers at 80% AMI, which is roughly $70,000-$80,000, she explained. Homes were originally priced at $285,000 for townhomes and $185,000 for condos, but that is being adjusted for the last round of sales due to increased construction costs, Schwartz said. 

The Confluence in Glenwood Springs calls for eight condominium units — six two-bedroom units and two with three-bedroom floorplans, she said. Price points are expected to be $250,000 and $295,000, respectively. Groundbreaking could happen before the first of the year, Schwartz said.

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