Finding decent, affordable housing to rent in the Mid-Valley can be a real challenge, but El Jebel is changing the game. Or at least modifying the game. The Crawford family has had a decades-long history of helping to meet the housing needs of workers in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Commitment to community has guided the family’s vision since Floyd and June Crawford settled in El Jebel in 1961 and built the first affordable housing units for workers constructing the Ruedi Reservoir.
Residents of their latest development believe that the Crawfords sincerely care about them and their community. And, it’s clear that affordable housing is the foundation for greater opportunity and stability for many families in El Jebel.
In 2016, Crawford Properties, run by Robert Hubbell, grandson of Floyd and June Crawford, broke ground on 46 new affordable mobile housing units, adding to its existing 298-unit El Jebel Mobile Home Park. The new development consists of eight two-bedroom and 38 three-bedroom residences, including six deed-restricted units for lower-income residents.
All of the 46 units in the latest expansion are rental units and all of them have been occupied pretty much from the get-go.
According to Hubbell, rent is $2,100 a month for the three-bedroom houses and $1,800 for the two bedrooms. The three deed-restricted three-bedroom units rent for $1,650 a month, while the three deed-restricted two-bedroom units go for $1,400 per month.
Nadin Vargas, 36, who works for The Little Viking housekeeping, had heard there were plans for a new El Jebel development in 2016.
“Every Friday, I would get off work and stop by the property office to inquire how I could get a home in this new community,” Vargas says. “We were lucky to have been third on the waiting list, and in November 2017 my family and I move in.”
“We had over 300 people apply for a home,” Hubbell says. “We determined who the residents were by interviewing them. All the applicants were interviewed by my mom, Adele. Not a formal sit-down interview, just conversations in the El Jebel office with her. If she thought they would be a good fit, we did a background check either through the state of Colorado or with their extended family members, many of whom live in the El Jebel area.”
Vargas and her two young children adore their new home.
“It’s a tranquil community, and it’s convenient that we can walk to the grocery store or to a restaurant,” she says.
Vargas is an aspiring entrepreneur. Her family has traditionally worked in the embroidery industry and she has invested in the equipment to launch an embroidery/monogramming business in the Valley.
“I come home from work exhausted, but I can still happily sit on my embroidery machine for hours,” she says, “It’s not always about money. You have to do what you love.”
Luis Aguilar, 29, was raised in El Jebel. He benefits from the Crawfords’ employee housing program and also moved into a unit in November 2017.
“I’ve grown up in El Jebel,” he says. “It’s a healthy, safe place to grow up, and I like the way El Jebel has evolved, modernized and made it easy to access services. There’s a good vibe in our community, and people respect each other.”
Sandra Romero, 50, and her family have benefited from the Crawfords’ affordable housing for more than 24 years. Before moving into her new, impeccably decorated, three-bedroom home in November 2017, she lived in a small apartment above the property office where she raised three kids alone.
Her children are now between 16-23 years old and are working and studying.
“Moving day was a beautiful moment,” Romero says. “The shift from a small apartment in a noisy area to a tranquil house with our own rooms, laundry and storage was gorgeous.”
Sandra and her husband Audencio particularly enjoy the tranquility and respect in their community and are grateful to live in their new [deed-restricted] home.
“Adele Hubbell (Crawford) and her son (Robert) helped me a lot when I was alone with the three kids and couldn’t pay on time,” she said, teary-eyed. “They never pressured me. Now, they gave me the opportunity to live here. It’s a blessing!”
Vargas, Aguilar and Romero want to see El Jebel continue to develop as a nurturing community for young families. They would love to have a recreation center in the Mid-Valley and a winter adventure park, where kids could tube, sled, ice skate and enjoy affordable outdoor activities besides skiing.
“Not everyone can afford to take their kids skiing, and it would be good to have other options,” Vargas says.
Both Vargas and Aguilar believe El Jebel came together and is a cohesive community, in part due to the many community-wide events organized by residents and local groups, such as English in Action, Valley Settlements, Crown Mountain Park, the soccer and baseball clubs and others.
Last year, for example, 173 Roaring Fork Valley volunteers joined forces to build a playground near the new El Jebel housing development. The effort was a creative community initiative that rallied residents, Valley Settlements, Eagle County, Crawford Properties and KaBoom!, an NGO that donates playgrounds across the U.S.
“I cannot thank KaBoom!, the Colorado Health Foundation, Valley Settlement, and especially the people in our valley-wide community enough,” Hubbell says. “I was speechless and emotionally drained at the end of the build day. The outpouring of help from the whole community was overwhelming.”
El Jebel’s strong sense of community is founded on the mutual respect shared by community members, and the inclusive manner in which projects are realized and maintained.
Hubbell calls this approach “ethical building,” which he defines as having the sincere will to do what is needed, and not seek the highest value to maximize profits.
After being inundated with daily calls for properties, Hubbell took a hard look at the possibility of developing and maintaining a safe, clean and sustainable Mid-Valley community.
Hubbell says, “When we set out to build the housing project, we asked two simple questions: 1) Can we build an attainable housing community with rents at 30 percent of average median income? and 2) Can we keep it sustainable — meaning financially sound and well-maintained? We needed to know that there would be funding set aside to maintain what we would build for generations to come. When we completed our due diligence, the answer to both questions was ‘yes!’ We work very hard to preserve affordability, and our rents are directly tied to ensuring sustainability.”
Hubbell’s vision is to develop dignified housing for working families, permitting them to live, work and raise families in El Jebel.
“What makes El Jebel special is that Robert and his family are part of the community and, like us and other residents, they are highly-involved in ensuring the success of El Jebel for generations to come,” Aguilar says.
Crawford properties is working to address the daunting challenge of high housing costs in the Roaring Fork Valley and the growing gap between blue-collar and middle-income families. The affordability gap — the difference between what an average family can afford and the median price of housing — will continue to grow, according to a recent Roaring Fork Valley Housing Study.
Addressing this gap will require that visionary private and public sector leaders advance an ethical building approach combining creative financing with sustainable construction and aesthetically appealing design.
Though there have been no vacancies since November 2017, according to Hubbell, people can go to his website to fill out a tenant application form for any rentals that open up.
Hubbell added that there are currently no plans to build more residential units on his Crawford Ranch property.
The Roaring Fork Valley Housing Study estimates that the Roaring Fork Valley region is expected to have a deficit of about 5,700 units of housing that is affordable for households earning less than the average median income (AMI) by 2027. The 2017 deficit was 700 units for households making 100 to 120 percent of AMI, which is currently about $90,000 for a family of four in Eagle County. The deficit was 1,200 units for households at 120 to 160 percent of AMI.