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Basalt affordable housing project accepting applications

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A joint affordable housing project serving the Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) and the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) is now accepting applications for the second phase of the Basalt Vista neighborhood. The new units will be located behind the Basalt High School and are comprised of three and four-bedroom homes. The application period began Sept. 3 and closes on Oct. 18.

The Phase 2 lottery is open to employees of the school district for six units, and open to individuals employed in Pitkin County for five units. The home prices range from $295,000 to $395,000, but selected participants can receive $25,000 off the purchase price with “sweat equity” —  a number of hours each occupant can volunteer to construct his or her future home.

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Basalt Vista is the first neighborhood-scale project overseen by Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley, which specializes in constructing affordable homes for occupation by local working professionals and their families. The neighborhood will ultimately contain 27 homes for qualified candidates.

Although Habitat is known for using creative strategies to fulfill its mission, Basalt Vista represents one of the organization’s especially collaborative visions. The land was donated by the school district and the initial infrastructure financed by Pitkin County. The Town of Basalt provided fee waivers for the project. And the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), Holy Cross Energy, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) helped turn it into a Net Zero Energy Neighborhood.

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Habitat hopes the Basalt Vista homes will help those struggling with the ongoing challenge of pursuing a career in this desirable international destination while achieving a long-term solution for navigating the high cost of living. Home ownership is perhaps the most elusive piece of the puzzle so many are trying to solve.

“Every year I watch more of my friends and family unable to stay in the Roaring Fork Valley because of the rising costs of homes,” said Amy French, Volunteer Coordinator and Family Services Director for Habitat for Humanity. She pointed to teachers as a stark example of essential workers that cannot usually afford a home here on their salaries alone. “Our schools up and down the Roaring Fork Valley are greatly impacted by the cost of living and teacher retention. Teachers come, they stay for a few years, and they realize they can’t make it here and they leave.”

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Natasha Walker, a toddler teacher at Basalt Elementary School, was facing that very dilemma when she was selected for a Phase One home at Basalt Vista. She had moved to the area from Colorado Springs in 2012. When her living situation drastically changed a year ago, she was considering leaving education to pursue a more lucrative career to support herself and her daughter.

“Being a single, minority preschool teacher in the valley didn’t fare very well,” she said. She decided to attend an informational session to learn more, but ended up filling out the application mainly due to “the support and rally I got from the crew that was there that night.” Ten days later, she was offered a two-bedroom home.

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“That single-handedly changed the entire course of my life to nothing but better. It was like the universe was saying ‘yes, you’re on track now.’ Finally, things are going to start falling into place.”

Although construction began in January in the dead of winter, Walker enthusiastically put in her sweat equity, building her home with the help of other volunteers and professional oversight. “We were out here in 20-degree weather sometimes. I think it was so much comradery and energy, and I don’t think the cold really fazed us at all,” she said.

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In addition to the affordability of the homes, the Basalt Vista project is the first Net Zero Neighborhood on the Western Slope. There are no gas lines to the homes; instead, they are outfitted with solar panels. The net-zero energy buildings produce as much energy in a year as they consume. Holy Cross Energy fitted them with batteries that can store energy, as well, so residents may even be able to profit by selling excess energy to the grid. This “learning lab” experiment may well end up being a model for future neighborhoods, as both Holy Cross Energy and the National Renewable Energy Lab monitor the outcomes.

Highly cooperative community investments in affordable housing such as the Basalt Vista project are perhaps one of the valley’s best solutions for retaining talent here and providing dignity to working professionals.

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“One entity isn’t going to solve the housing crisis in the Roaring Fork Valley,” said Amy French. “But what this project is showing is that when multiple organizations, agencies, towns come together, that’s when we can really make a difference.”

Those interested in applying for either the RFSD or APCHA lottery can do so online at HabitatRoaringFork.org/Basalt-Vista. There are also information sessions at the job site trailer located at 600 Southside Drive behind the Basalt High School. Remaining sessions are scheduled from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesdays Oct. 2 and Oct. 9.

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