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Published in the July 16, 2015, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Committee discusses updates on ADUs, options for MHP owner

by Amy Reinholds

At a special housing committee meeting Monday, members of the committee discussed with Cody Humphrey, Lyons housing recovery coordinator, what options exist for the former Foothills Mobile Home Park owner who has said he wants to rebuild. John Baranway is on a list for buyout funds for his flood-damaged property, expected this fall, Humphrey said. Baranway wants to build a 16-unit mobile home park in Lyons again but does not yet have a property development team together that could address applying for grants or evaluate potential land for needed site improvements and other planning needs. Chair Justin Spencer and Wendy Miller discussed possibilities: how the possible future affordable housing tap fee policy could apply to manufactured housing parks if landlords could guarantee a permanently affordable rental policy, and how to encourage affordable housing in town by helping potential landlords like Baranway find property development teams to work with.

The housing committee still has a decreased membership since the group formed in April, because three members have quit. There are only four current members, and only three members who attended the July 9 meeting: Spencer, Miller, and Martin Soosloff, who had to leave early. Nate Mohatt hasn’t been able to attend any meetings since June 18, but Susanne Ducker, a new Lyons resident who has been attending meetings, submitted an application for the committee at the end of last week. The June 13 meeting of the special housing committee at the Town Hall Annex only had two members attend: Spencer and Miller, and two liaisons: Humphrey and me.

Although down to a smaller group, the special housing committee still aims to accomplish work through subcommittees: to work with the Utilities and Engineering Board on a tap fee policy for affordable housing, to work with the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) on encouraging residents to build accessory dwelling units or mother-in-law apartments, to identify potential sites for affordable housing, to identify options for affordable rentals, and to identify options for manufactured housing.

I agreed to follow up with the PCDC on the continuing discussion about how to encourage more accessory dwelling units, also called mother-in-law apartments, guest houses, or the acronym ADUs. At the July 9 special housing committee working meeting, I reported that a first draft of an educational hand-out for Lyons homeowners interested in creating apartments on their properties has been created, and town staff are finalizing the information.

I talked to Michelle Allen, PCDC chair, who said that homeowners need to decide whether building apartments is right for them, and they need to weigh the costs and benefits, so providing answers to common questions can aid them in making informed decisions. For example, homeowners need to decide whether they have $10,000 to $20,000 that they can invest in creating an ADU or whether they could get a construction loan to cover those costs. With market-rate rents, homeowners might be able to recoup their costs in 2 years if they don’t take out a loan, or maybe 5-10 years if they do have a loan.

The PCDC also asked town staff to determine what tap fees apply to internal ADUs like basement apartments or additions and what tap fees apply to separate buildings outside the main home. Basically hidden apartments, these units don’t change a single family zone in Lyons into a multifamily zone. It’s no different than having roommates or other family members, except a newly constructed apartment with a full kitchen gives the homeowners advantages in rental income for an full living space with a separate entrance.

The PCDC recommended that the town find a way to fund promoting information in a workshop and educational materials, including the following items:

  • the ABCs of being a landlord
  • how to estimate costs of creating an ADU
  • how to submit for a building permit
  • how to hire subcontractors to do the work
  • how to check in with homeowners associations and insurance companies for required changes
  • a simple cost-benefit analysis of building ADUs

A future workshop held by the town staff and the PCDC would then answer questions people have about everything entailed in creating new apartments, including those who have never been landlords before. Maybe there could also be a workshop for small contractors to understand the process and help their clients create this new housing. Are there local contractors who can help people create ADUs?

ADUs can be a market-rate option to increase housing stock. Costs can be lower than renting entire homes because the units are smaller and might be less attractive because located in basement, for example. But ADUs cannot be sold separately, and I have not seen likely scenarios to force affordable rents like you can with deed restrictions for owner-occupied homes or non-profit and government affordable rental programs.

The next meeting of the special housing committee is a working meeting at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 16, at the Lyons Valley Village Community House. The special housing committee regular meetings are now on 2nd and 4th Wednesdays at 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall annex behind the Barking Dog – the next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 22. The working meetings to tackle subcommittee issues are on Thursdays of the alternating weeks when regular meetings are not held on Wednesdays. Check the town calendar and town email for any updates. All housing committee meetings are open to the public and published on the Town of Lyons calendar at http://www.townoflyons.com/calendar. Keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for updates about what has and has not been accomplished. For background on the special housing committee and to read previous weeks’ columns, see http://www.lyonsrecorder.com/index.php/lyons-chatter/6026-what-s-the-future-for-affordable-housing-in-lyons.


Amy Reinholds served on the Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force from December 2013 through its end in February 2015. She is currently a member of the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission and serves as a liaison to the special housing committee. She has lived in Lyons for 11 years and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.