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Habitat for Humanity builds on local volunteers

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By The Staff

Evergreen volunteers are stepping up to help shelter their fellow citizens — not by writing checks but by actually building them houses.

And in the 17 years since Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity was organized in 1991, said Pandora Reagan, development director for the agency, those volunteers have built 21 houses under the aegis of the local affiliate of the international organization, which was begun in 1976 in Georgia.

The volunteers, from the Conifer and Evergreen Rotary clubs, area churches, Mountain Metro Realtors, Bank of America and other service organizations, in addition to drop-in workers with no particular affiliation, have built homes that sell in the mid-$90,000 range but with a value twice that amount. They are sold to applicants through no-interest loans based on need, ability to pay and connection to the community. Mortgage payments go directly to Blue Spruce.

To ensure that the new homeowners keep the houses and don’t put them back on the market, Reagan said, Blue Spruce holds a second mortgage on the property that is forgiven over the 20-year loan period.

But by the time the applicants have put in 250 hours of “sweat equity” on the new house, made the down payment and purchased the house, Reagan said, “they have so much invested in it that they’re really involved in the whole process.”

Approved applicants, Reagan said, “pay back exactly what it costs us to build it” when they get their mortgage. About 900 families in the mountain area covered by Blue Spruce are eligible to apply for a Habitat home.

Habitat for Humanity International, Reagan said, with former President Jimmy Carter perhaps its best-known volunteer, has built nearly 250,000 houses in some 100 countries. In fact, Reagan pointed out, “a home gets built about every 24 minutes somewhere in the world” by Habitat volunteers.

Blue Spruce Habitat volunteers, working Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, are now on their 22nd home in the Evergreen area, with the latest near Buffalo Park and Olive roads. The house’s new owner, Pam Matheson, will be able to move in sometime in August, Regan said.

The house was originally a summer getaway for a Denver family and is being remodeled and added to make a structure about twice as big and with wheelchair access.

Reagan said Blue Spruce “typically builds a couple of houses a year” but is taking on three this year, with a tract of land near Kittredge being readied for a duplex that will start construction Sept. 5. Ultimately, she said, there will be about 14 Habitat-built homes on the tract.

The duplex, she said, will be part of a project called Habitat Homebuilders Blitz, during which five area homebuilders will provide both materials and workers to build the structure in just nine days, starting with a foundation provided by Blue Spruce. Two other “blitz” structures are to be built elsewhere in the state by other affiliates, though the Kittredge project will be the first for Blue Spruce, Reagan said.

Reagan said Blue Spruce gets land for its projects through discounts provided by sellers, donations and purchases, but stressed that its biggest asset is the volunteers who build the houses.

Blue Spruce, she said, “is very fortunate to have such great support from the community. It’s much appreciated.”

But, she added, “We’re always looking for more.”

Volunteers, who need have no special skills, can sign up at www.bluesprucehabitat.org.