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Habitat for Humanity can’t afford to build a home in Chaffee County

The duplexes at 500 and 502 Crestone Ave. in Salida were built through Chaffee County Habitat for Humanity. More than 50 applications have come in for a Habitat home in 2018; however, Dale Shoemaker, board president, said that, due to the rising price of land in the county, the organization will not be building a home this summer unless the Habitat board can find land priced under $30,000 or receive a land donation. (photo by Ericka Kastner).

Chaffee County Habitat for Humanity will not build a home this summer.

Program Coordinator Angela Wallace said Chaffee County Habitat for Humanity has not been able to afford the increased cost of land in Chaffee County, and as a result, project builders for the organization will not break ground on a summer build for the first time since 2013.

Part of the national nonprofit organization, the Chaffee County Habitat for Humanity was incorporated in 2000; since then, they’ve typically built one or two houses each year ‒ 20 thus far. “But this is the first time that the reason we’re not building is simply because of the current price of land,” Wallace explained.

Habitat serves families and individuals earning 30-60 percent of the area’s median income; through the program, qualifying applicants are given the opportunity to purchase a home based upon their specific income level ‒ an opportunity they might not otherwise have. According to the Habitat website, the organization’s mission is to “help families build and improve places to call home.” They believe affordable housing “plays a critical role in strong and stable communities.”

“A family of four has to be earning at least $100,000 annually right now in Chaffee County to be able to buy a house. Not many families are making that,” Wallace noted. “People say we don’t have a problem with affordable housing, so knowing that an organization like Habitat can’t even build here might put it into perspective for them.”

Dale Shoemaker, local Habitat board president and manager in charge of builds, has been volunteering for building since 2010. He said the price of land has actually been too high for the past two years, but the group was able to build in Nathrop in 2017 on donated land.

Habitat tries to sell the houses they build for $150,000 or less, meaning the land needs to cost no more than $30,000. “Usually people give us land or sell it to us at a discount and take a tax writeoff. More recently though, people are telling us they’ll sell to us, and then they turn around and sell the same land to a for-profit builder for $100,000. I can’t say I’m surprised when that happens, but I am disappointed,” Shoemaker said.

It’s not too late to build this year, though; the local Habitat board has two real estate agents who are continually looking for land. Although the group is involved in community service building projects in Fairplay, Buena Vista and Poncha Springs, Shoemaker said that, if they could find affordable land or if someone donated land, Habitat could still build this fall.

Wallace said she has spoken with individuals who visit the county and who live in their seasonal homes for maybe two weeks out of the year. She’s asked them to support Habitat, and “their response is, ‘We help at home.’ The problem is that they still want to be able to come here and enjoy the amenities. Affordable housing in Chaffee County may not be important to you right now, but if everyone doesn’t step up, we won’t have people who can work at grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants. Basically the community could collapse.”

More than 50 applications have come in for a Habitat house in 2018, Shoemaker said, even though there isn’t a house available. To qualify, the applicant must also either live or work in Chaffee County. “Most of the applicants have two jobs, but they are struggling to stay here with even that. We want to keep them gainfully employed in suitable housing in Chaffee County.”

Shoemaker defined affordable housing as housing that costs a family or individual less than 30 percent of their income. “In one of our houses, we have a tow truck driver; in another, a kitchen worker at the Buena Vista High School. They are working very hard in the sectors of society that keep the economy rolling.”

Wallace summed it up like this, “The queen bee can’t survive without the worker bees.”

To donate land or for more information, contact Executive Director Jill Smola at or

This article is part three in a series of articles on affordable housing in Chaffee County. If you know of someone struggling to find housing in the county, or if you are personally challenged with this and are willing to tell your story ‒ even anonymously ‒ contact Ericka at or call 719-207-5002.

Previous articles in this series:

A Place to Call Home, Part 2: Being homeless brings daily challenges
A Place to Call Home, Part 1: Teacher struggles to find legal, affordable housing