Marcia Nugent purchased her first home in 2010, at age 60. Disabled and living on Social Security and a disability pension, she didn’t believe owning a home was possible.
“Renting was becoming less and less desirable,” Nugent said. “The house I was renting needed lots of repairs. It was cold in the winter. Things were falling apart.”
Her rent continued increasing each year, so Nugent reached out to Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity and applied for a house. Her application was approved, and Nugent and her granddaughter moved into their new home in 2012.
“Habitat for Humanity seeks to help those living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” said development director Andy Petersen. “Our residents make less than 50 percent of the mean national income. It is difficult for them to find reasonable rental housing with such limited resources. For example, we had an application from a family of six living in a two-room apartment with one bedroom with active black mold. We want to help these families find more affordable, safe housing.”
To this end, the Woodmen Vistas neighborhood was developed in northeastern Colorado Springs. Residents, volunteers, directors and city officials gathered on Aug. 20 to celebrate the completion of the housing development. The 66-home neighborhood was a joint effort between Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity and the Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust.
The project was the vision of Paul Johnson, former executive director of Habitat for Humanity.
“We had built a few individual properties in Colorado Springs but wanted to consolidate our efforts into one location and develop a true community.”
In 2004, Johnson went looking for land and found a plot off Tutt Boulevard, the former home of the Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center. “There were an additional 5 acres adjacent to the Riding Center land. I approached the Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust, and we teamed up, each purchasing five acres,” Johnson said.
“We chose this site because of the ability to expand in the future,” said Mike Matkin, former board president for Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity.
“There are plans to build a park and a District 20 elementary school just across the road. It will be a true community, but we need have more homes in the area first.”
The two philanthropic groups broke ground on the project in 2008, and construction on the last home was completed this winter. “We received an enormous amount of help and support from the city of Colorado Springs,” Petersen said. “They allowed us to defer payment on the loan, giving us more money for construction costs.”
The homes were built almost entirely by volunteers, with the assistance of area home builders and contractors. Between 350-400 volunteers donated countless hours to the project. Future residents also put “sweat equity” into the construction of their homes.
“I spent most of my free time one summer helping build my house,” said teacher’s aide and Vistas resident Sandy Kristiansen.
“I learned so much about what goes into building a home and what is behind my walls. I wrote a verse of scripture on one of the studs, facing the beauty of Pikes Peak. I got to design and plant my own garden in the back of my house; it is truly a haven back there.”
Though she is disabled, Habitat found ways for Nugent to help, too. “The house definitely wasn’t free; I had to work!” she said. “I picked up nails at the construction site with a magnet. I made food for the volunteers and workers on site.”
Petersen said Habitat works to give residents “a hand up, not a hand out. “We provide them with all we can to sustain home ownership and break the cycle of poverty — a down payment of only $1,000, zero-percent interest on their loan, loan payments typically $200-a-month-less than their rent payments — but we require effort from them.” In addition to having residents put in time building their homes, they are required to attend classes on budgeting and home maintenance.
Residents, city officials and directors and board members of Habitat and the Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust gathered in the Woodmen Vistas commons area to celebrate and give thanks for the completion of the community. Children played while adults mingled and enjoyed a barbecue. It was an idyllic picture of a peaceful, safe and well-maintained community.