Published in the Dec. 17, 2015, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Steps for potential Habitat for Humanity homeowners

by Amy Reinholds

Although construction might not start until summer 2016, there are steps that people who are interested in being future Habitat for Humanity homeowners in Lyons can take now, according to Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley staff who presented informational sessions on Sunday and Monday.

Julie Gallegos, director of family services for Habitat for Humanity of St. Vrain Valley, recommends knowing your credit report, where your money goes, and paying off debts to the best of your ability. She presented the following tips:

  • Pull your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228 (the government site that is really free to request reports once a year from each of the three credit-reporting companies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experion)
  • Calculate your debt-to-income ratio, which should be 41% or less (worksheets are available from Habitat for Humanity)
  • Organize your finances to know where your money goes: Take free Financial Foundation classes offered by Boulder County, and meet with a free financial counselor. Call 720-564-2279 to sign up for either program (free whether or not you choose to apply for a Habitat for Humanity home).
  • Pay off debts to the best of your ability, or start a payment plan.
  • If you are interested in home ownership for a future Habitat for Humanity home in Lyons but couldn’t attend the meetings that were just held in Lyons, call Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley to get on a list for future orientation meetings. Call 303-682-2485 and ask for Erin Minaya or Julie Gallegos (Spanish speaker).
  • Communicate with Habitat for Humanity if you move or change phone numbers.

David Emerson, executive director of St. Vrain Habitat for Humanity, said that a hopeful timeline for 6 Habitat for Humanity homes in Lyons is to start working in early summer 2016, with a completion in two years. The final subdivision and PUD zoning plan for Park Street and Second Avenue that allows lots for three proposed Habitat for Humanity duplexes was expected to be before the Board of Trustees at their Dec. 21 meeting. Other steps before Habitat for Humanity can start building are infrastructure and replatting, responsibilities of the current owner/developer. Emerson said that the timeline is affected by when the current owner can provide the “builder-ready” lots, and the amount of community support that comes in, including volunteers and fundraising to fill gaps for needed expenses.

First orientation for those applying to be homeowners would probably be in the spring, after the builder-ready lots are ready. Emerson said that a Colorado-wide Habitat for Humanity Americorps volunteer program could bring as many of 50-60 volunteers to Lyons for June 6-10, so ideally some construction could start by that time.

The informational meetings on Sunday and Monday also explained the basic requirements for Habitat for Humanity. To qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home, people must demonstrate the following points:

  • a need for housing (examples include paying more than a third of your family income on rent, not qualifying for a traditional loan, or living somewhere that is not able to be maintained for health and safety)
  • a willingness to partner with Habitat for Humanity (to follow the home-ownership program, including contributing up to 500 hours of “sweat equity,” depending on family size, by volunteering at the construction site along with other volunteers)
  • ability to pay the mortgage (which is interest-free) and provide a down-payment (some assistance is available).

In addition, the proposed 6 Habitat for Humanity homes in Lyons will have an affordability covenant and a preference policy.

Affordability covenants are used around the country to make sure that the housing units that are invested in by the community don’t become unaffordable to low- and moderate-income buyers in the future. With an affordability covenant, you agree that if you sell your home, it has to be to a qualified buyer who makes no more than 60% of the median income of the region, and that the increase in value in your sales price can’t be more than the consumer price index. Also, Habitat for Humanity homes must be owner occupied. Note that if you leave the area for a job, you can’t rent out the home.

The preference policy considers qualified homeowners in the following order:

  • Primary preference: Preference for applicants displaced from their homes as a result of the flood disaster of 2013, who maintained their primary residence in the Lyons area (80540 zip code) at the time of the flood.
  • Secondary preference: Preference for applicants displaced from their homes as a result of the flood disaster of 2013.
  • Tertiary preference: Preference for Lyons residents, students, and employees.

So, after understanding the program requirements and the preference policy, in the time between now and the first orientation meeting in the spring, potential Habitat for Humanity homeowners are encouraged to work on financial steps to demonstrate the ability to pay the mortgage. Contact Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley if you have any questions: Erin Minaya at eminaya@stvrainhabitat.org or Julie Gallegos at jgallegos@stvrainhabitat.org,  303-682-2485. Prospective Habitat for Humanity homeowners are also invited to attend upcoming home dedications in January in Longmont to see finished homes and to help celebrate with the families moving into their new homes. You can learn more at www.stvrainhabitat.org.

There are no more special housing committee meetings in December, but the committee has a workshop with the Board of Trustees set for next Monday, to discuss an affordable housing survey that could shape a Lyons affordable housing policy. After that, the next special housing committee meeting is Jan. 13, from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Town Hall Annex (behind the Barking Dog Cafe). Keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for updates about any accomplishments to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons. All housing committee meetings and other town board and commission meetings are open to the public and published on the Town of Lyons calendar at www.townoflyons.com. For background and history on the special housing committee, including how it started, you can read previous columns at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds@ hotmail.com.