Published in the August 19, 2015, edition of the Redstone Review.
COMMENTARY: What’s the fix for affordable housing in Lyons?
Could Make It Right or Space to Create, Colorado help Lyons?
By Amy Reinholds
LYONS – The rezoning and subdivision process on the former Valley Bank parcel for residential lots for six homes to sell to Habitat for Humanity hasn’t started yet, other than a pre-application meeting. As of Aug. 12, Town Planner Bob Joseph was waiting for a submittal from the land owner, Planet Bluegrass. When a public hearing is scheduled, notices will be published at least 10 days before the Planning and Community Development Commission meeting. Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is completing an environmental review, required because the group will use federal disaster recovery funds. A southeast portion of the land is in the 100-year floodplain, so mitigation steps for building the new homes must be detailed. I hope the rezoning/subdivision process moves quickly and that six households out of the 100 who lost their homes in the flood two years ago will live there one day.
In the meantime, what are other options to add back the remaining number of lost affordable homes in Lyons? The special housing committee has been looking at all sites previously considered. The Lyons Board of Trustees voted to enter into a contract with the City of Longmont to buy the former Longmont water treatment parcels east of town (on the condition that the town is granted federal disaster recovery funds), and maybe residential could be incorporated with commercial development there.
Recently, people have asked me about two nonprofit programs that provide affordable housing: the Make It Right nonprofit organization that was started in New Orleans by actor Brad Pitt in 2007 and “Space to Create, Colorado,” a state program to develop affordable housing and work space for artists and arts organizations, announced July 28 by Governor John Hickenlooper.
Make It Right has built more than 100 homes in New Orleans, starting two years after Hurricane Katrina, and now, almost 10 years after the disaster, is continuing to build there and in other regions. Make It Right builds affordable and environmentally sustainable homes with local partners. All homes the organization builds receive platinum certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
“We are very excited for the savings for homeowners (or renters) because the utility bills are much lower than they have been paying,” said Melanie Klein, a project manager and landscape architect who has worked on projects in Kansas City and Fort Peck, Montana.
To bring Make It Right to Lyons, our community would need to have both a site identified and a developer partner. “We would want to work with a partner based locally in Colorado,” Klein said.
For example, in Fort Peck, Make It Right works with Integrated Solutions, owned by members of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, which has built other affordable housing. Fort Peck, in northeast Montana, is located near the reservation, and housing prices are soaring as oil workers in booming Williston, more than 100 miles to the east in North Dakota, are moving to Fort Peck because of housing shortages.
If the special housing committee – or other community members – find a site and a developer partner, Make It Right could be invited to evaluate a proposal.
A little closer to home, but partnering with nonprofit Artspace, based in Minnesota, is “Space to Create, Colorado.” For four years, the state program will open applications to communities in two of Colorado’s Division of Local Affairs regional groups each year. The North Central region that Lyons is a part of includes Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Gilpin, Larimer, and Weld counties.
“The communities within each region will complete,” said Margaret Hunt, director of Colorado Creative Industries in the state’s Office of Economic Development. “The program will look at resources the applicant brings in terms of property, buildings, and funding… and will also look at concentrations of artists in the community.”
To be competitive in this process, Lyons should have a parcel of land ready and possibly some other funding sources. The first step will be an arts market and feasibility study that a community must pay for, but there might be other state funds to cover those study costs. Hunt advised that communities interested in the program should get a steering committee together to prepare.
At the Aug. 4 meeting of the Lyons Arts and Humanities Commission, the commissioners discussed how pursuing artist housing would fall under its umbrella as a subcommittee, because a Recovery Action Plan item to create live-work space affordable for artists was assigned to the commission in 2014. I also reached out to Susanne Ducker, a new member appointed to the special housing committee who is interested in participating, and Jay Malito, chair of the Economic Development Commission, who is interested in having his commission represented on the group. Jacque Watson, staff liaison to the Arts and Humanities Commission, Lyons Housing Recovery Coordinator Cody Humphrey, and Joseph are all following the program closely.
Artspace owns and operates 26 artist live-work projects across the country, a majority affordable to households earning at or below 60% of the Area Median Income of each local area. According to http://www.artspace.org, anyone who qualifies for affordable housing can apply for residency in an Artspace project, but the organization gives preference to “applicants who participate in and are committed to the arts.”
Keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for updates about what has and has not been accomplished to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons. All housing committee meetings are open to the public and published at www.townoflyons.com/calendar. The next working meeting is 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 20, at the Lyons Valley Village Community House. The next special housing committee meeting at the Town Hall annex (behind the Barking Dog Cafe) is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 5:30 p.m.
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 12 years and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.