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Published in the February 26, 2015 edition of the Lyons Recorder

Last Housing Recovery Task Force column:

Task Force work is done; now work lies with all citizens

by Amy Reinholds

In December 2013, I was appointed to the Housing Recovery Task Force (HRTF), a volunteer, non-voting, 10-member, ad-hoc committee for the Town of Lyons. The HRTF purpose was to consolidate and identify possible housing recovery solutions, to support the town’s applications for grant money associated with providing replacement housing that was affordable for residents displaced by the September 2013 flood. The HRTF’s responsibility was to present options to the Lyons Board of Trustees, which was the responsible party to make all final decisions. On January 5, 2015, the board voted on a parcel of land to pursue federal funding for 50-70 units of housing that are affordable to the segment of the Lyons population that lost their homes in the flood. The parcel selected by the board is five to seven acres of Bohn Park. That now goes to the public in a special mail ballot election on March 24, 2015.

The HRTF achieved its purpose: We identified and evaluated a spreadsheet of sites, held regular open meetings and presented a special public open house workshop. We called on housing experts from the state, the county, the University of Colorado Denver, the private sector, and the nonprofit sector. We helped a consultant create and distribute a Lyons Housing Needs Assessment survey and communicated the results. We provided information to two different elected Board of Trustees (before and after the spring 2014 election). We completed our work from the Recovery Action Plan items that were assigned to the HRTF. We asked the board to apply for flood recovery funds to hire consultants who could delve into details about site issues, financing, and other costs. We also asked the board to hire public engagement specialists who could make sure all voices were heard. The board hired Trestle Strategy Group in October 2014 for both those roles. We asked the board to apply for flood recovery funds to hire a housing project manager position who would work directly for the town, and Cody Humphrey was hired at the end of 2014.

At the January 5 board meeting, I spoke during the public comments: “In the past year that I’ve been interested in the affordable housing issue in Lyons post-flood, I’ve often heard people ask questions like ‘Who will live there?’ or ‘How could I even afford to live in new housing that the town is considering?’”

I explained that in order to be considered “affordable,” housing should not cost more than 1/3 of a household’s monthly income. I relayed information from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority about Area Median Income (AMI): Someone who makes 30% of AMI is a single person earning about $9 an hour or a 4-person household earning about $28,850 a year. Maximum rents for someone making 30% of AMI are approximately $540 a month for a 1 bedroom or $750 for a 3 bedroom. Someone who makes 50% of AMI is a single person earning about $33,650 a year or a family of 4 earning about $48,050 a year. Maximum rents for households making 50% of AMI are approximately $900 for a 1 bedroom or $1,300 for a 3 bedroom. Habitat for Humanity uses similar measurements of what an affordable housing payment is for home ownership.

“So I ask the Lyons community to think about who the people are in our community who fall into these income categories,” I continued. “We’re talking about people who have lived here for years, for decades, and their families have lived here for generations… people who are living somewhere else after the flood, or who are living here but paying much more than a third of their income to rent in Lyons. These are our friends, our family members, or we might even be surprised to find out that we ourselves qualify. These are the people behind the bar, behind the espresso counter, behind the cash registers in town… the people who are self-employed, who bring us food, take care of children in our community, sell us groceries, or who create the food or the music for Lyons restaurants, farm dinners, and weddings. Shouldn’t they have this opportunity to keep their housing expenses affordable and still live in Lyons?… The housing site for 50-70 units that the board is considering today is just a portion of the total housing lost in the flood, but it’s better than nothing. Let’s not miss this opportunity for funding.”

In the weeks that followed that Jan. 5 meeting, I thanked all the trustees personally and in email for voting to select a parcel and pursue funding. I didn’t ask them to pick a particular parcel, but I did ask them to make a decision and move forward. They all voted based on the research and data from the Trestle Strategy Group. The majority determined that Bohn Park was the most viable option that will work for our town and be affordable.

In the past 13 months, I have closely watched the process that ended up with this board decision, and that’s why I trust that process. In addition to all the public meetings, I personally witnessed town employees and our elected trustees reach out to adjacent neighborhoods and all members of the public to listen to concerns and answer questions.

Many people have been devoted to seeking solutions to new affordable housing in the year since the flood. The work of the HRTF is now done, but now the work is in the hands of all the citizens of Lyons. It’s your turn to vote in the March 24 special election mail ballot.

Get informed by going to http://www.lyonshousingcollaborative.com, by visiting Trestle’s storefront hours at 443 Main Street on Tuesdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., on Thursdays from 2 p.m.-5 p.m., and on Sundays from 10 a.m.-1p.m., and by joining a weekly walkabout in Bohn Park, Mondays at 3:30 p.m.