, , , , , , ,

Published in the Sept 8, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Three years since the flood

by Amy Reinholds

I started writing this “What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?” column in early 2015, after a majority of Town of Lyons voters rejected a proposal for affordable housing in part of Bohn Park. For the three-year anniversary of the flooding that permanently changed our town, I’ve collected a summary of what affordable housing initiatives our community has pursued since the flood, and a summary of what I have learned in the past three years. For everyone in the Lyons community, I wish you the best in rebuilding, focusing on your future, and reflecting on the past of our resilient community.

Here’s the status of possible post-flood affordable housing initiatives that have been proposed in Lyons in the past three years since the flood:

  • Before the former Board of Trustees ended their term on April 18, 2016, they unanimously approved an Affordable Housing Resolution that specifies a goal of 10% affordable housing stock in Lyons with a list of possible housing policies and incentives that future boards can use to accomplish that goal. The current Board of Trustees directed the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC), the Utilities and Engineering Board, and Town Staff to determine proposals for implementing policies that encourage affordable housing.
  • On July 5, 2016, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved final rezoning and subdivision steps to allow 6 residential lots at 2nd and Park to be sold to Habitat for Humanity of the St Vrain Valley. The 6 lots for 3 duplexes can be sold to Habitat for Humanity after the plat is recorded, and the former bank building will remain on a commercial lot. Habitat for Humanity will complete the required subdivision improvements for the residential lots, planning to begin these improvements after closing on purchasing the lots from landowners Downtown Lyons Development, LLC. In June 2015, Craig Ferguson purchased the 0.76-acre parcel from Valley Bank, and the previous Board of Trustees voted unanimously to waive water and sewer connection fees that they have control over for the proposed Habitat for Humanity homes. The total of about $173,500 in savings will help Habitat for Humanity meet its permitting and fees budget, keeping mortgages down to about $150,000 for homeowners. Habitat for Humanity acts as a builder and a lender of no-interest loans for homeowners.
  • In recent months, the PCDC and Town Planning Staff, directed by the current Board of Trustees are focusing on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and rental policies, a possible free-market approach to increase the number of initially lower-priced rentals for people who work in town. If you are a landlord or vacation rental host in Lyons town limits, or want to be one, make sure to attend the PCDC public hearing next Monday, Sept. 12, at 7-9 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall, where the public has a chance to comment and help shape policy for how ADUs can be built and used in single-family residential lots in Lyons town limits. For more details, see https://lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/public-can-comment-about-adus-at-sept-12-planning-commission-meeting/.
  • A proposal for subsidized affordable housing rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 units) in 5-7 acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 in a March 24, 2015, special election mail ballot, an attempt at post-flood housing recovery after 14 months of work by the Lyons Housing Recovery Task force and hired planning consultants and the Lyons Housing Collaborative. The Boulder County Housing Authority (funded by our county tax dollars) continues to manage three other rental properties in Lyons that have long waiting lists: 8 apartments at Bloomfield Place, 12 apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing, and 6 apartments at Mountain Gate.
  • At the end of 2015, the Town of Lyons submitted a proposal to the National Disaster Resilience Competition, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that included affordable housing and a safe haven community center, and the Town entered into option-to-buy contract with the City of Longmont for the former Longmont water treatment land on the north and south sides of Hwy 66. Lyons received the disappointing news in January 2016 that the competition didn’t award any funds to the State of Colorado, but other funding might be found. In March and April of 2016, the Lyons community participated in the Eastern Corridor Primary Planning Area planning process, providing input on future land use in that area, whenever future landowners apply to annex to Lyons. Affordable housing, senior housing, small cottages, and mixed residential, business, and retail use were some of the land uses that the public strongly supported for the Eastern Corridor. In July 2016, trustees said results of a survey showed community support for affordable housing in the Eastern Corridor with 65% of respondents saying that affordable housing was “essential” or “very important.” They saw it as a positive endorsement of moving forward if the opportunity presented itself to have the Town of Lyons buy and annex a parcel in the Eastern Corridor. At the Sept. 6, 2016, Board of Trustees meeting, the trustees and Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen talked about options for possibly using parts of the northern parcel of the former water treatment plant as a site for the Lyons Public Works building, because FEMA has determined that the temporary location at the Vasquez stone yard does not meet requirements for a permanent location. Other options discussed were a possibility of Colorado Department of Transportation moving out to a part of the former water treatment plant site, maybe swapping land it currently owns near Eagle Canyon that could become residential.
  • Simonsen also told the Board of Trustees at the Sept. 6 meeting that in the last few weeks, two separate groups have come to her saying they would like to build permanently affordable housing in Lyons and leverage $4 million in federal disaster recovery funds that will be available. The groups are considering buying some privately owned parcels in the Eastern Corridor and elsewhere. The Board of Trustees directed her to meet with the groups to understand the proposals and bring updates to a future meeting.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned in the past three years since the flood:

  • Affordable housing takes a long time, and it’s not easy. But nothing happens at all if no one tries in the first place, or if no one perseveres.
  • We can’t rely on Facebook posts for factual information. Like accepting rumors heard on the street, believing Facebook posts at face value causes misinformation and strife.
  • As part of human nature, people are naturally self-centered. And in our time-crunched society, people often prioritize attending town meetings or volunteering their time only for issues that affect them personally. But under certain circumstances, we do reach out beyond ourselves to help our neighbors, as we saw an overwhelming majority of our community and visitors do in the immediate aftermath of the flood.
  • “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” I saw this motto on a plaque at an event honoring LaVern Johnson, who has devoted decades to serving on Town of Lyons boards and commissions. Related to the previous point, there’s a natural tendency to proclaim that something needs to get done (like affordable housing), but it is someone else’s job. We naturally want to blame others when events don’t unfold the way we think they should. Instead, I prefer the approach that people who are passionate about initiatives should take the lead, and those who aren’t willing to devote the time and energy should accept the leaders who step forward. There’s always room for others debating the direction to sit at the table, but you have to be willing to devote at least equal time and energy – and be willing to actually sit in a chair at the same table with the leaders.
  • Each person was affected uniquely in Lyons by the flood. We can be emotionally tied to our neighbors’ struggles, and we can join together in support groups for moving through common challenges. But we will never truly walk in our neighbors’ boots.
  • Similarly, each person has a unique perspective on who to trust and distrust. What makes sense to me about the levels of trustworthiness of federal, state, county, and town government officials or staff, those with authority like professors or heads of religious organizations, or big or small corporations and business owners, isn’t the same as what other neighbors think.
  • As a member of the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission, I’ve learned that there is a significant financial need in Lyons. Increasing housing costs only make it more difficult for a family to stretch a budget. An estimated 25% -30% of Lyons-area residents rely on some form of assistance from external agencies to have their basic needs met, based on data from the Lyons Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF), and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. About 10%-15% of Lyons kids qualify for free/reduced school lunches (less than $44,000 annual income for a family of four), and it takes $75,906 for a family of four in our county to be “self-sufficient” (not require assistance from external agencies, such as social services, nonprofits, or churches).
  • Finally, another human nature observation: We all want to feel good about doing something. Some of us crave affirmation, and some of us like to do good in secret, or we fall somewhere in between. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, my employer offered an opportunity to donate through our paychecks to specific relief funds that helped in New Orleans, and I continued donating through paychecks each year to organizations I learned about like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity. Then in 2013, I saw those organizations come to help Lyons, and I met more like Team Rubicon and Calvary Relief. Although it sounds gloomy, there is always going to be another natural disaster somewhere, whether the New Jersey coast, the Gulf Coast, Nepal, Oklahoma, Japan, Mexico, Texas, India, South Carolina, California, Louisiana, or somewhere else. I urge you to regularly donate to organizations you have seen help in Lyons, so they are ready to deploy wherever the next disaster hits.

For history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns posted on my blog at https://lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. All town meetings of the elected Lyons Board of Trustees and appointed, volunteer town boards and commissions are open to the public and posted on the town calendar at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.

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 served as a liaison to the Special Housing Committee from 2015-2016. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.