Howard: The Path to Home

Recently I was talking with a peer, who loves living here and is contributing to our community. He has a stable, “professional” income. He’s lived and worked here for more than a decade; he has worked his way up in his profession. His salary has roughly tripled since he entered our professional workforce.

He has done all the right things — saving diligently and paying down student debt. However, because of double-digit price increases year after year, he stated without a doubt that he is further from owning a home in Eagle County today than he was when he arrived.

His story hit me like a ton of bricks and has stuck with me. If a mid-career professional has a hard time purchasing a home here in our valley, what hope do low- to moderate-income individuals have? We are losing people that make up the very fabric of our community because they cannot put down roots here.

In 2018 it was estimated that Eagle County was short 5,900 affordable housing units. I am quite sure that number hasn’t improved over the past four years. I’m sure I don’t have to say it, but housing prices have skyrocketed since that time. Investors and remote workers are buying homes that once belonged to locals — they’re bringing cash to the table and offering over the asking price.

Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley is a builder of permanently affordable homes — we believe in the power of homeownership. The cost is the same to build one rental unit and one homeownership unit. However, homeownership has positive ripple effects for families, neighborhoods and the community that far outweigh the benefits of a rental unit.

Homeownership is transformational. Beyond having a safe space, a home is everything. It’s a place where we gather with friends, where we share our private moments. It’s a foundation for the future.


A home free from toxins and hazards allows people to thrive. Children raised in an unhealthy environment are diagnosed more frequently with asthma, chronic diseases and injuries. “A stable, affordable home is a prescription for good health,” Dr. Megan Sandel believes. Young children in families who move frequently are more likely to be in fair or poor health and have developmental delays, she shares.

Mental health

An unstable living environment — when one has to move frequently or doesn’t have a home base — may lead to depression, anxiety, increased alcohol use, psychological distress and even suicide. Poor mental health is evident in both adults and children, through acting out and disruptive behavior.


Studies show a stable home helps children do better in school with fewer absences. Children from stable homes are more likely to graduate from high school. Habitat Colorado found that 71% of Habitat homeowners believe their children will go onto higher education and 98% saw a positive impact on their children’s school performance.

Community involvement

Habitat families report being more involved in their community, with more time to dedicate to outside interests, whether volunteering in the neighborhood, at their children’s schools or with other organizations.

The Habitat Factor

Although it seems harder than ever to own a home in Eagle County, Habitat Vail Valley is making inroads to help locals build a solid future here. We opened our application cycle July 1 for families making between 35% and 80% of the Area Median Income — that’s up to $89,450 for a family of four. No homeowner will ever pay more than 30% of their gross annual income toward a mortgage. And they build equity. If a Habitat homeowner moves on, they can bring a down payment. Our homes aren’t sold on the open market — we sell it to another Habitat family.

We continue our partnership with Eagle County School District for a program that encourages teachers to become Habitat homeowners. Educators earning up to 100% of the AMI — up to $112,000 for a family of four — can fill out an application with weight given to their employment with the school district.

Eight families are currently building their homes in Stratton Flats. Soon we will have 16 additional homes under construction at Third Street in Eagle. I can’t express enough how much we want families to visit with us, to apply for a home and to put roots down in this community. We encourage everyone to learn more and apply. Some homeowners have worked with us for two or more application cycles, to finally be chosen.

For more information or if you want to talk about opportunities for creative partnerships to build affordable for-sale homes, email me at We believe in partnerships and the positive benefits they bring. We are excited to work with families, helping them achieve the dream of homeownership.

Elyse Howard is the director of development for Habitat Vail Valley. Since 1995, the organization has built 100 homes, providing safe housing for 377 children. Learn more at