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Published in the Sept 14, 2016, edition of the Redstone Review

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

What I’ve learned in the three years since the flood

By Amy Reinholds
Redstone Review

LYONS – I started writing this “What’s the fix for 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’m thinking about what affordable housing initiatives our community has pursued since the flood, and 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 a summary of what I’ve learned in the past three years since the flood:

1.) 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.

2.) 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.

3.) 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.

4.) “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.

5.) 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.

6.) 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.

7.) 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).

8.) 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.

Keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for news about accomplishments to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons after the 2013 floods. For history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns posted on my blog at 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, 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 during its existence from April 2015-April 2016. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.