Published in the March 19, 2020, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
Opinion column: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Where candidates stand on affordable housing – Part 2
By Amy Reinholds
Both candidates for Town of Lyons mayor, Jocelyn Farrell and Nick Angelo, as well as Board of Trustees candidates Mark Browning, Wendy Miller, Mike Karavas, and Hollie Rogin all have supported a wide range of ways to ease burdens on both homeowners and renters in Lyons in their official capacities when serving on the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Lyons Board of Trustees. These approaches include supporting policies for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) (including tiny homes on wheels and aging in place), limiting short-term vacation rentals, supporting Habitat for Humanity, encouraging using the $4 million in federal disaster recovery funds set aside for subsidized affordable rentals in the Town of Lyons (which Summit Housing Group eventually applied for and was granted by the State Housing Board), and highlighting the challenge local businesses face of finding employees who can afford to live in town. Board of Trustees candidate Kenyon Waugh, who hasn’t served on a board or commission in recent years, has said he supports increasing affordable housing by removing administrative barriers and hurdles, encouraging ADUs, employee housing, and supporting federally subsidized affordable rentals like the proposal from Summit Housing Group in Lyons Valley Park (although he hasn’t commented on details in the Summit proposal).
But Board of Trustees candidates Greg Lowell and Robert Brakenridge are focusing narrowly on one topic related to the term “affordable housing” during their campaigns: problems they see with a proposal from Summit for a development plan to build 21 townhomes with rents affordable to households at 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). I haven’t heard them talk about easing burdens on both homeowners and renters, of all ages, who are struggling to get by in a town and a region with rising house prices and rising rents. Other candidates have talked about these issues in their work over the past 6 1/2 years since the flood, or at least in their recent campaigns. Even at the candidate forum on March 9, when asked specifically about affordable housing, Lowell and Brakenridge responded with comments focused on the ability of residents to vote on every new affordable housing proposal. They made broad statements of general support for the Lyons Comprehensive Plan, but they ignored pieces of that plan about subsidized affordable housing, and they missed the reality of lost housing stock. (Approximately 76 to 94 homes were lost in the 2013 flood.) They didn’t talk about a way to help people who are struggling to pay rents and mortgages.
There are various nuances between candidates’ positions, which I describe in the following sections. The information comes from their voting records on boards and commissions, their email responding to my questions to all candidates, online correspondence they initiated with me, and their statements at the March 9 candidate forum. I list candidates in alphabetical order by last name.
It is important to note that the Town Attorney has advised that if there is a bias or prejudgment about the Summit Housing Group development plan for Lyons Valley Park, the State of Colorado standards for ethical conduct of elected officials require that the trustees must recuse themselves from a consideration, vote, or decision. Therefore, no one at the candidate forum commented about the specifics of that proposal.
Two candidates competing for the Town of Lyons mayor seat
Nicholas Angelo, a former Lyons mayor and former member of the PCDC, supported the ADU policy to encourage more lower-priced market rentals as a PCDC commissioner. In the platform statement emailed to me, he said he would like to see more of the subsidized affordable rentals at 40 percent AMI and special incentives for apartments accessible for people with disabilities. His earlier statements to me about the delaying of affordable housing until he felt the water treatment plant is operating correctly were problematic, implying the current plant cannot handle more residential units in town. In reality, the water treatment plant was designed for residential waste even more than Lyons can build out. The current issues are with industrial waste from high-strength waste producers, which are starting be addressed with a plan for a pre-treatment ordinance. More residential waste without the BOD contaminants will help dilute that high-strength waste.
At the candidate forum, affordable housing was not one of Angelo’s top three issues to tackle, but he said he agreed with Hollie Rogin’s comment to pursue how to make ADUs permanently affordable–something he did not pursue when he was on the PCDC. He also said that he wanted to see the subsidized rents in the Summit proposal go lower than the required maximum of 60 percent AMI and that he wanted affordable housing accessible “for the physically impaired.”
Jocelyn Farrell, a current trustee, has a history of supporting affordable housing initiatives on the Board of Trustees, including ADUs. In a platform statement that she emailed me, she said, “While this is a great start, it isn’t enough to support our community’s needs. Lyons does not have sufficient affordable home-ownership or rental options.” She mentioned the three Habitat for Humanity duplexes, which are one duplex away from being complete, as being some progress. “Having affordable housing options will help provide employees for our small businesses and enable Lyons to become a stronger, more diverse community,” Farrell said. “We must make plans now for future affordable housing development.”
At the candidate forum, Farrell listed affordable housing as one of the three top issues she wanted to focus on if elected mayor, and as something that touches her personally. In her platform statement that she emailed me, Farrell described growing up living in apartments, rental houses, and a mobile home. “The high cost of property taxes, health care, student loans, child care and transportation are a few examples that can have a significant impact on financial stability. I know Lyons residents who have these challenges and are one hardship away from choosing to live here or move out of town.” At the forum, she mentioned the Boulder County goal for 12 percent affordable housing across the county by 2025 and how the Town of Lyons is a partner in that plan, with a variety of affordable housing policies and proposals like the ADU policy and affordable rentals subsidized by the federal disaster recovery funds. “The ideas on the table will help us get there,” she said.
Seven candidates competing for the six seats on the Town of Lyons Board of Trustees
Robert Brakenridge, who volunteered recently on a subcommittee of the Lyons Ecology Board, emailed an policy statement that said, “My own belief, ever since the flood of 2013, has been that flood replacement/affordable housing, supported by public funds, should be in compliance with the Lyons Comprehensive Plan. On a topic that has caused the town so much controversy, I also feel strongly that town trustees should not substitute their personal beliefs for what a majority of the residents want, or don’t want. Subsidized affordable housing has a public cost; it should not be injected into a community unless that community has a say in it. Not just through developer-guided ‘information workshops’ but, ideally, through a vote.”
Brakenridge argues in a way that pits homeowners struggling to pay mortgages against renters who are struggling to find places to rent. He posted a comment to my column in the Lyons Recorder that suggested I don’t care about people with mortgages who have a property tax increase because I support the Summit proposal. Instead of his approach, we can live in a caring community that helps both homeowners struggling to pay mortgages and the renters struggling to pay rent. I think that is the compassionate path that almost everyone wants in the community–supporting multiple programs and approaches that ease the burden of the wide variety of homeowners and renters, like what candidate Rogin proposes. Brakenridge does not address this concept, which I think is vital for the Town of Lyons and the surrounding community. He doesn’t have a track record on affordable housing issues on a Town of Lyons board or commission, but he does have a track record of trying to prevent Summit from being approved for the CDBG-DR funding by giving input to the State Housing Board in February 2019. He asked the State Housing Board to reject the application, stating that it was incompatible with the Lyons Comprehensive Plan and other planning documents, that it does not address the housing needs of the town in a size-appropriate and economical manner, and is in disagreement with the purpose of the CDBG-DR funding program. The State Housing Board did not agree, and approved the funding.
At the forum, affordable housing was not one of Brakenridge’s top three issues. The candidates were asked directly about what kinds of affordable housing they supported in town. After hearing what others said, Brakenridge said he supported the “10 or 12 percent” goals that were already set by the Town of Lyons and Boulder County, and he repeated from the Lyons Comprehensive Plan that “towns need a range of housing.” He also made an observation: “I notice that we have a lot of R2 zoning with only one residence.” In reality, there are very few R2 lots in the town of Lyons that are not in the floodplain or on steep terrain with room for a second dwelling. This was discussed at recent Board of Trustees meetings in the past year when the board updated the ADU policy to allow tiny homes on wheels.
Mark Browning, a current trustee, has supported affordable housing issues like ADUs and limiting short-term vacation rentals that were before the Board of Trustees and the PCDC, on which he served. He also volunteers regularly with Habitat for Humanity. The platform statement that he emailed me mentions the same Lyons Comprehensive Plan as Brakenridge’s, but he seems to have actually read the plan: “I support affordable housing. The 2010 Lyons Comprehensive Plan provided, ‘Increase opportunities for affordable housing.’ Since then, we lost more than 75 low- to moderate-income housing units in the 2013 flood. We’ve replaced only about 12 (in Habitat for Humanity homes and ADUs). Lyons needs more affordable housing to even approach what we had pre-flood, much less address the Comp Plan goal to add more.” He said he looked forward to reviewing Summit’s application when it is finalized and hoped that Summit proceeds with a high-quality proposal. “I also continue to support ADUs to add more small rental options in the private sector market.”
At the March 9 candidate forum, Browning said affordable housing was the first of this three top issues, and he reiterated the platform statement that I mentioned above. He said the town already identified a need for more affordable housing, before the great loss of homes at the lower end of the market destroyed in the flood. And he linked it to the economic needs of the town. “Businesses need to be able to hire employees and have a place for them to live locally. It’s hard for them to find employees who can afford to live here,” Browning said. “Housing is important. It helps not just the people who live there, not just the community as a whole in terms of being open to diverse incomes, it helps businesses, too.”
Also at the forum, Browning said that Lyons can’t address the affordable housing lost by building on empty lots in town, because there aren’t that many of them. He said he had counted only five and fellow candidate Waugh told him of one more. “So that’s six vacant lots in town. I’ll donate $20 to the Lyons Community Foundation to anyone who knows of an additional available lot,” he said.
Michael Karavas, a current trustee, has supported affordable housing issues before the Board of Trustees in his two terms as a trustee, including Habitat for Humanity, the $4 million of federal CDBG-DR funds set aside for affordable housing in Lyons, encouraging ADUs for long-term tenants and limiting short-term vacation rentals, and adopting the Boulder County Housing Partnership’s Regional Housing Strategy.
At the forum, Karavas listed budget issues and housing issues together as a top issue, because he said they are tied together. He said it is important to keep Lyons a place where current residents can continue to afford to live and that raising fees for residents can work against keeping housing affordable. This approach is important for the Town of Lyons, as housing costs continue to rise in the region. I’m glad that Karavas is paying attention and cares about not losing long-time residents to this type of gentrification. He and Miller are valuable members of the board with this perspective.
When asked about what kinds of affordable housing he supported, Karavas said that since he was first elected to board in 2016, the main proposal on the table was for affordable rentals built by the $4 million in federal disaster recovery funds set aside for the Town of Lyons (which Summit Housing Group eventually applied for and was granted by the State Housing Board). “I am supportive of trying to bring something to fruition,” he said.
Greg Lowell, a current member of both the Ecology Advisory Board and the Parks and Recreation Commission, sent an email response to my request to all candidates asking if they had platforms for affordable housing, and what kind of affordable housing they support. He replied, “If Town trustees, mayor and staff actively engage in affordable housing projects (that is, offer Town land for such housing or enter into purchase agreements to buy land for affordable housing and then solicit building contractors), then there needs to be a public process and a binding vote of the residents on that project. The proper way to develop affordable housing should be making changes to municipal ordinances to favor affordable housing projects and seeking concessions from developers to include lower-priced homes in their mix of proposed houses.”
Other than requiring “a binding vote of the residents” there really isn’t much of a platform other than a vague statement about “changes to municipal ordinance to favor affordable housing projects.” I’m not sure how that would work. It seems like developers would have to work with the Town of Lyons for a binding vote of the residents before proceeding. Like Brakenridge, Lowell also tried to prevent Summit from being approved for the CDBG-DR funding by giving input to the State Housing Board in February 2019. He asked the State Housing Board to reject the application, stating that Summit housing group had not made a concerted effort to engage the community and to inform them of the application for funding before the State Housing Board. The State Housing Board did not agree and approved the funding.
At the forum, affordable housing was not one of Lowell’s top three issues. Lowell responded to a question about what kinds of affordable housing he supported in town by talking about what he described as “a lot of division” over a proposal in 2015 for using part of Bohn Park to build 50-70 federally subsidized homes, some Boulder County Housing Authority rentals, and some affordable Habitat for Humanity homes that would be sold. (A ballot issue asking voters if the town should sell a portion of park land for the project failed with 498 votes for and 614 votes against.) But he didn’t offer an answer to what proposals he supports moving forward in other than a vague mention of town residents examining “whether we want single homes integrated into the community.”
Wendy Miller, a current trustee, served on the Lyons Special Housing Committee in 2015-2016 and ran as a trustee on a platform supporting affordable housing and was elected in 2016. She was elected again in 2018. She is the board liaison to the Lyons Housing & Human Services Commission. Like Karavas, she has supported affordable housing issues before the Board of Trustees in her two terms, including exploring opportunities for the $4 million of federal CDBG-DR funds set aside for affordable housing in Lyons, encouraging ADUs for long-term tenants and limiting short-term vacation rentals, and adopting the Boulder County Housing Partnership’s Regional Housing Strategy. In her liaison work with the Housing & Human Services Commission, she is also interested in aging in place and home sharing for seniors, the intersection of transportation and housing needs, fair housing for people with disabilities, and improving situations for people who live in Boulder County Housing Authority rentals in Lyons.
Miller was not able to attend the March 9 candidate forum, but her record on affordable housing speaks for her. She has the experience of being a renter during the 2013 flood and its aftermath. She applied for and qualified to buy a Habitat for Humanity townhome, and she moved in last summer. In an emailed statement, she said, “I have lived in Lyons for 15 years, being a renter most of the time. When we moved here, it was a much different place. Artists, musicians, and blue-collar workers were the fabric of the community…creating a respected and magical place for ourselves and our children to grow up. Then the flood hit and everything changed.” She continued: “I represent the lower income class, the blue-collar folks; the ones who have lost their voice as housing costs have soared.”
When the Board of Trustees passed changes to the ADU ordinance over the past two terms, Miller stated that she wanted a way for ADU property owners to commit to lower rents, affordable to lower-income renters, or even agree to take tenants with housing vouchers. However, there was not support from other trustees, or implementation ideas from town staff at that time to pursue. With other candidates like Rogin speaking out in favor of affordability requirements for ADUs, there might be enough momentum for a future board to take this up.
Hollie Rogin, a current member of the PCDC, speaks in support of affordable housing issues on that commission, and she has previously served on the PLAN-Boulder County board, which has identified an affordable housing position. On her website, she spells out her affordable housing platform. While she calls adding more affordable homes “one tool in the toolkit,” she also says the town should “preserve and enhance the affordability we already have.” For example, she said the mobile homes and apartments at 224 Seward St. are not zoned for apartments and a mobile home park. “Let’s make sure they’re protected from redevelopment, and while we’re at it, let’s find a way to improve the properties.”
Rogin proposes enhancing the ADU ordinance “by preventing those units from being sold apart from the main dwelling unit. This practice, called ‘condominiumization,’ effectively removes more affordable rental units from the market and results in a windfall for the original property owner. Let’s also look at swapping increased allowable square footage on ADUs for guaranteed limits on rent increases.” These plans fit in with goals that Miller, Browning, and Karavas have previously discussed on the Board of Trustees, and now might have more momentum if Rogin is elected. She also mentioned adding larger goals like investigating how to use new residential and commercial development to fund a pool of money “to offset rising rents, offer down-payment assistance to those who qualify, and provide low-cost loans to residents who wish to build ADUs with guaranteed affordability.”
Rogin said at the forum that increasing affordable housing in Lyons was one of her top three issues. Like Karavas, she also talked about sustaining current “market-rate affordability.” She mentioned the goals she listed on her website, including modifying the ADU policy to incentivize or encourage property owners to provide lower than market rents or permanent affordability for low incomes, something that Miller has been advocating for during her years on the board. Rogin’s approach is even broader than just policies to the makeup of the volunteer commissions that help shape and interpret the policy. “I would like to see the town recruit people to the PCDC who might live in affordable housing,” she said.
Kenyon Waugh pointed to his personal experience at Lyons Properties, the partnership he and his wife are part of with four other families in the area. Lyons Properties owns River Bend, and Waugh operates WeeCasa Tiny House Resort on the River Bend property. In the platform statement he emailed me, Waugh said that he and his wife (former Trustee Juli Waugh, who resigned last year) as well as Lyons Properties are residential landlords with several tenants in town. “I would like to work to get affordable–and seasonal–housing in place for the town by removing administrative barriers and hurdles.” Waugh added that the ADU policy (including tiny homes on wheels as ADUs) is a good start, and “Now the town must be open to making these feasible and worth the time.” Waugh advocates for private development, and characterizes government as an impediment to efficient progress in affordable housing. “The only new affordable housing since the flood–or since I’ve lived in Lyons–is the Habitat for Humanity project,” he said. “This was driven by a private interest and supported quickly–and relatively painlessly–by the town.”
Waugh is mistaken about the speed and agility of the Habitat for Humanity project at Second and Park Streets. It was not a quick process, and the third duplex building is not complete. It also is not the only affordable housing built since he lived in Lyons, if he’s lived here since 2003. Walter Self Senior Housing was built in 2006 by the Boulder County Housing Authority, using funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development program. At the candidate forum, Waugh repeated the same incorrect statement that “the only affordable housing brought forward was through a private developer, with the town getting out of the way.” In reality, a Lyons Special Housing Committee formed in 2015, and one of the original members, Tom Delker, encouraged another, Craig Ferguson, to sell some land to Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley to build federally subsidized for-sale homes. The original committee didn’t last long, and several times during the process of purchasing the land from Valley Bank, or in the subdivision process, Ferguson said he would quit and not move forward. It was far from a quick and smooth process by a private developer. Also, Habitat for Humanity homes are built by volunteers, which takes time, especially if there are not enough volunteers. The final duplex building is still being completed, nearly 5 years after that meeting where the Board of Trustees agreed to waive water and sewer connectivity fees they had control over. (Browning also took issue with Waugh’s statement at the candidate forum, saying that the project wouldn’t have taken place without the town’s financial commitment of waiving some fees for the project.)
At the candidate forum, Waugh listed affordable housing as one of the top three issues he would focus on as a trustee. “We need diverse affordable housing for employees of businesses in Lyons and the artists and musicians that made it a place where we all want to live.” In his email statement, Waugh said, “there are a lot of details to work out” in a larger project like the one Summit Housing Group is proposing with several federal funding sources, and those projects “take longer,” but he is still supportive. At the forum, he said, “I think there is a place for larger efforts. I applaud the effort.” He also said, “We’ve got cases where people are saying ‘not in my back yard’ ” in Lyons. Waugh said when talking with friends and family in other states about large metro areas like San Francisco and Seattle, he learned that “single-family zoning is the new redlining.”