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Published in the March 16, 2016, edition of the Redstone Review.

COMMENTARY: What’s the fix for affordable housing in Lyons?

Participate in planning meetings, vote for trustees, review housing strategy, spread the word

By Amy Reinholds
Redstone Review

LYONS – This month, my column focuses on what Lyons residents and the surrounding community can do.

Participate in planning meetings

If you think there should be housing that people who work in Lyons, or people who lost their homes in the flood, can afford, make that part of the vision for the Eastern Corridor.

The Town of Lyons, along with the hired consultant team, will be holding public meetings for the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan to determine the vision for parcels that are currently outside of Town limits. The planning process is broken into three small areas: the Eastern Corridor & Gateway, the South St. Vrain River/County Road 69 area, and Apple Valley. But the first three public workshops will focus on the Eastern Corridor & Gateway. Meetings are Thursdays: March 17, April 14, and April 18, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Rogers Hall (4th and High Street). Attend as many of the meetings as you can to make sure you have the opportunity to shape the vision of what can be built in the future on the eastern edge of town. You don’t have to live within town limits to participate.

If you don’t participate, don’t complain later that your ideas weren’t included. You have the power!

Vote for trustees

Vote for leaders who have realistic and workable ideas to make Lyons more affordable. Read the candidates’ answers to questions that are published in this edition of the Redstone Review.

From what I’ve learned in the two and a half years that I have devoted to looking for solutions for affordable housing in Lyons, I advise against approaches that rely only on the free market, such as removing barriers to homeowners creating mother-in-law apartments (also called accessory dwelling units or ADUs), or general statements about increasing infill and mixed types of housing. Without a way to require that rent or sales prices will be affordable in the future, all the work is lost as soon as the landlord needs to raise the rent or the original homeowner decides to sell. Instead, I encourage electing trustees who understand that multiple tools should be deployed to incentivize and encourage housing that remains affordable into the future to the populations who need it.

The candidates who are currently serving on the Board of Trustees and the Special Housing Committee have the institutional knowledge of the research from the years since the flood to understand these issues, and we know where they stand, informed by their experience.

The Town of Lyons election (by mail ballot) is Tuesday, April 5.

What affordable housing strategies will work?

In the next month, before the current terms end, the Board of Trustees would like to have a realistic group of strategies that future town leaders can apply to decisions about affordable housing. The trustees reviewed a draft of an Affordable Housing Policy Framework with Cody Humphrey, Lyons Housing Recovery Coordinator, and Justin Spencer, chair of the Lyons Special Housing Committee, in early March. The draft was based on research including policies in other towns in Colorado, input from other town boards and commissions and town attorney Kathie Guckenberger, and a guide from the Colorado Division of Housing. It summarized affordable housing objectives already defined by the town and suggested 10 guidelines to consider as ways to meet a goal of 10% of all housing in Lyons to be affordable to people who make less than 60 % of the area median income (AMI). (In 2015, 60% of AMI was less than about $48,400 for a 2-person household).

The draft presented guidelines to consider from requiring all new residential developments in Lyons of more than 5 dwelling units to build at least 20% affordable, incentives for developers who elect to build additional affordable units, researching changes to utility connection fee structure, and a fee or tax for funding affordable housing. Trustee Dawn Weller worked on the draft with the Special Housing Committee, and trustees Barney Dreistadt, Dan Greenberg, Jim Kerr, Connie Sullivan, and Mayor John O’Brien all gave feedback. In the next month, look for changes including an assessment of the needed number of units of affordable housing, about 5 realistic strategies that can work for different scenarios and be incorporated into existing town design standards/code. Comments from trustees included specific incentives for housing affordable to people who make less than 30% of AMI and fees assessed as part of the permit process for residential and commercial permits.

Spread the word about Habitat for Humanity

Please help pass on this information for people who wonder if they qualify for some home-ownership affordable housing programs like Habitat for Humanity:

  • If you are interested in home ownership for a future Habitat for Humanity home in Lyons but couldn’t attend the 2015 meetings, call Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley: 303-682-2485. Ask for Erin McDermott or Julie Gallegos.
  • You can pull your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228 (the government site that is free to request reports once a year from each of the three credit-reporting companies)
  • Calculate your debt-to-income ratio, which should be 41% or less (worksheets are available from Habitat for Humanity). Pay off debts to the best of your ability, or start a payment plan.
  • Take free Financial Foundation classes offered by Boulder County, and meet with a free financial counselor. Call 720-564-2279 to sign up (free whether or not you choose to apply for a Habitat for Humanity home).
  • Learn about more financial programs from the Lyons Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF) at the Lyons Community Church every Wednesday from 3:30-5 p.m.

Keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for news about any accomplishments to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments or complaints about this column, contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. The next meeting of the Special Housing Committee is scheduled for March 30 at the Town Hall annex (behind the Barking Dog Cafe) from 5:30-7 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.