Guest column: Affordable homes are good for Rifle and communities in our region |

Guest column: Affordable homes are good for Rifle and communities in our region

Gail Schwartz

Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley is pleased to introduce our newest net-zero affordable housing community, Wapiti Commons in Rifle. This project has been made possible due to a generous land donation to Habitat in South Rifle by Clay Crossland and Paul Adams of Oak Grove Ventures.

The Wapiti Commons neighborhood is planning 18 for-sale homes consisting of eight condos being designed for Rifle’s older adults, and 10 duplex townhomes intended for Rifle’s working families, earning approximately 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). With our net-zero energy design, these homes will be truly affordable by maximizing energy efficiency, pairing solar electrical generation with efficient appliances, heating and cooling. The Wapiti Commons project represents an approximately $6 million capital investment for Rifle in affordable ownership housing in perpetuity.

You can find Wapiti Commons in South Rifle at the corner of Wapiti and Smith streets, but it is not the first Habitat affordable community we have built in western Garfield County. Since 2006, we’ve built 21 affordable homes in Rifle and Silt with families earning between 50-80% of the Garfield County AMI, and our track record shows that 86% of these homes still have their original owners.

What this means is that we partner with families that become part of the communities where they live and work, providing them with long-term success and stability. Habitat has always been about meeting the needs of families and communities, and Wapiti Commons is about meeting the needs of Rifle’s families and older adults.

The need for homes that are affordable to people who live and work full-time in our Habitat affiliate service area of Parachute-Glenwood Springs-Aspen is well documented as is the current housing crisis throughout Colorado. Housing prices statewide have increased 36.5% in the last 12 months, and the recent spike has especially limited the stock of affordable housing available to working families and seniors in Western Garfield County.

In Rifle, the median sales price for multi-family housing has gone up 31% compared to last year (Land Title Guarantee Co.’s Garfield County Market Analysis). At the same time, Rifle has experienced both a population growth in the 25-44 age group of 23.6%, and a tightening in the market for older adult housing, as 92% of older adults feel that they are unable to find affordable quality housing in their own community (Older Adult 2020 Housing Needs Assessment for Garfield County).

Back in 2019, the Greater Roaring Fork Housing Study stated that by 2027, population growth alone would lead to a shortfall of 5,700 units for people making below 100% of area median income. Given the volatility of the current housing market, this number is only likely to increase. As a result, main street businesses, local institutions and governments are currently losing employees, and employers are unable to attract qualified workers due to the high cost of living in our region.

When finished, Wapiti Commons will directly support at least 10 jobs in Rifle, and possibly 20 or more depending on dual income families and active older adults who are still employed, potentially as nurses and teachers or at local businesses. It has been proven that employees with affordable and stable housing will have a drastically increased rate of retention and satisfaction with their employment.

Wapiti Commons will directly benefit local employers and institutions by providing the opportunity for employees to live close to their work. It also benefits local families, as affordable ownership housing creates family economic stability, enables employees to live affordably and for children to thrive, and frees up disposable income.

Currently, from New Castle to Parachute there are an estimated 2,600 households that commute daily to jobs in Glenwood Springs and Aspen to meet workforce needs outside of their communities (Greater Roaring Fork Housing Study). This commute comes at a great cost to these employees and their families for the benefit of their employers. Habitat also benefits from this commuting workforce, as 40% of our affiliate employees live west of New Castle. This reality drives our commitment to investing in the quality of life and institutions in the Rifle community, which will benefit our entire region.

But we can’t do this alone, as it takes many hands to build a home. There are so many ways you can get involved with Habitat Roaring Fork. You can sign up as a volunteer at our build site and ReStore, attend our local events or make a monetary donation through one of our various giving opportunities. You may even consider becoming one of our long-term partners by joining our Builder’s Club today and buying at the ReStore.

Whatever way you choose to support us makes an invaluable impact, and we are honored to serve this diverse and dedicated region of Colorado. Please find us at and give us a wave on the Habitat float in the Garfield County Fair parade on July 31.

Gail Schwartz is president of Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley.

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