Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley

By Emma Castleberry

Habitat for Humanity of St. Vrain Valley has grown considerably since they built their first home in 1988. Back then, the group was building an average of one home a year. This year, they hope to complete eight.

“We started out in 1988 as very much a volunteer organization with some very insightful folks that really believed in this crazy idea of building homes in partnership with people,” says John Lovell, Director of Development at Habitat for Humanity of St. Vrain Valley.

Habitat is the only organization in the St. Vrain Valley the offers affordable home ownership, with emphasis on that last word.

“We look at the need for housing as kind of a spectrum, from those that are truly homeless, through transitional housing, through rental housing, and then ultimately into home ownership,” Lovell says.

Habitat serves families earning between $22 thousand and $44 thousand a year.

“These are families that would never otherwise be able to go to a traditional financial institution alone for a mortgage,” Lovell says.’

The houses built by Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley are three bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom townhomes. The homes are sold to the families for $145 thousand dollars, a cost that accounts for the land, the materials, and the professional staff time.

“What I think makes us and every other Habitat unique is that our families are not “given” homes,” says Lovell. “They, in fact, will pay an affordable mortgage back to Habitat that is in turn reinvested for more homes. Our homeowners are helping to build the next generation of homes.”

There is a rigorous selection process for those who receive a Habitat for Humanity home. Habitat hosts a homeowner orientation two or three times each year. Prospective individuals and families are assessed in three areas, the first of which is housing need.

“We define that as people that are paying in excess of 30 percent of their income for housing costs,” says Lovell. “In fact, most of our families are paying 50 percent or more of their income prior to coming to our program.”

Other factors that help Habitat assess a family’s housing need are safety issues, such as a living situation with no heat or no egress windows, and overcrowding. The second element of the three-part assessment is the ability to pay.

“They have to have a steady income,” says Lovell. “That would obviously imply that they are employed. Their debt has to be under control. It doesn’t mean they have no debt, but they’ve figured out how to manage their money.”

This part of the process disqualifies many people interested in a Habitat home, but those people often return and get approval once they have their debt under control.

The third and final part of Habitat’s assessment is a willingness to partner.

“Our families will put in 250 and 500 hours of sweat equity on their home,” says Lovell. “A single individual would do 250 hours of sweat equity and a couple would do 500 hours.”   

In addition to these three elements, anyone who receives a Habitat for Humanity home must be a legal resident of the US and have lived or worked in the St. Vrain Valley for at least a year. Lovell said over 100 people attended Habitat’s last homeowner orientation and the organization only had three available homes.

“Affordable housing is a critical issue here in our community,” Lovell said. “We can only build as fast as we can gain volunteers and funding to do that work.”

Vicky Reyes was one of the lucky few who made it through this selection process. Reyes is a Licensed Practical Nurse and single mother to her 5 year old daughter, Viktoria.

“I decided to apply for a Habitat home because at the time I was graduating the Family Self Sufficiency Program, so I basically needed somewhere to go,” Reyes says. “I really can’t afford home mortgages right now in Boulder County, being a single mother. I  decided to apply and see where it was going to go. I was blessed that I got selected.”

For Reyes, the best part about her Habitat home will be stability for her and her daughter.

“I am really excited that my daughter will not have to move again,” she says. “We’ve moved about three times and she is only five and she remembers it and hates moving. I’m glad I’m going to be able to be in the same neighborhood. She’s going to be able to build friendships and relationships with our neighbors and go to the same school through elementary and middle school.”

The home that the Reyes family will help build and eventually purchase is a special Habitat for Humanity of St Vrain Project called The House that Beer Built. Habitat is teaming up with 9 local breweries to raise the funds for the Reyes’ new home through fundraisers and collaborative build days.

This idea was inspired by a similar project completed by the Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity. AmeriCorps VISTA Veronica Jones decided to try the same project in the St. Vrain Valley.

“We set three broad guidelines,” Jones says. “We wanted [the breweries] to come out and build with us for a day. We decided as a group that we wanted to do a build collaborative, which will be Oktoberfest in the fall. The third thing was do what you can: maybe a fundraising event, maybe a week where a portion of your funds go to the home.”

One participating brewery, Oskar Blues, raised money for the event by creating a special menu served in all four of their restaurants and donating a portion of their sales over 10 days in April.

“It’s something that we like doing anyways, getting our employees involved and helping out in the community, so the project just resonated for a variety of reasons,” says Diana Ralston, Director of Sponsorship at Oskar Blues.

Shoes and Brews will also be participating in the project with a donation-based 5K run this summer. Ashlee Anderson, co-owner and manager at Shoes and Brews, was excited to collaborate with Habitat and other breweries.

“Anything that allows us to help the community that we’re part of is something that we’re going to be interested in,” she says.

The next event in support of The House that Beer Built will be Lagers and Lumber, held at Wibby Brewing on July 2 between 2pm and 10pm. In partnership with Rockfan Entertainment, Wibby is bringing 4 bands to their stage, headlined by Euforquestra. Entry is free and beer will be served from almost all of the breweries that are participating in The House that Beer Built project. A portion of beer sales will go to the cause.

“It’s pretty darn cool that everybody is willing to come out that day and contribute to that event that we’re throwing for the overall project,” says Ted Risk, co-founder of Wibby Brewing. “We’re trying to make this a huge effort that leads to us being able to write a big check for Habitat for the cause.”

Left Hand Brewing, in addition to serving their beer at the Lagers and Lumber event, has assigned Habitat as a partial beneficiary of their Oktoberfest event held at Roosevelt Park in September. Joshua Goldberg, Left Hand’s Community and Events Manager, says the community is really the driving force behind this project.

“Really, the members of our community do the work,” he says. “It’s really the folks who are coming out, that are buying the pints and making the donation at the door that is really building this home. It’s really The House that Longmont Built. I think that’s something that we should all be proud of.”

Published in Longmont Magazine on July 19, 2016.

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