Published in the September 15, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Planning Commission votes 5-1 for ADU recommendations
by Amy Reinholds
After hearing public comment that supported similar goals on Sept. 12, the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) approved recommendations to revise Town code with accessory dwelling unit (ADU) definitions, aiming to encourage more small apartments for long-term rentals at the lower end of the market.
Both the PCDC and the Utilities and Engineering Board (UEB) will present their proposed revisions to Lyons municipal code to the Board of Trustees on Monday, Sept. 19 at a 5:30 p.m. workshop, and the trustees will make a final decision on changes to town code, after another public hearing. The biggest change recommended is that the ADUs, such as carriage houses, mother-in-law apartments on single-family-home lots, would be able to share the utilities with the main house (with no additional tap fees or connection fees, also called development or community investment fees). The UEB approved 4-1 a recommendation on Sept. 7 that ADUs, which are defined as 800 s.f. or less, should be connected to the water, wastewater, and electric utilities of the principle dwelling unit, and additional utility connection fees (approximately $15,000-$16,000) are required only for new primary dwelling units.
If these changes are adopted by the Board of Trustees, with a discount of about $16,000 for a homeowner from current requirements, it will be interesting to see how many people apply for permits for ADUs. The current ADU policy has been in place for about two years, but no one has requested a permit.
Also part of the PCDC recommendation determined on Sept. 12, the property owners must live in either the ADU or the main house more than half of each calendar year, and the ADU can only be rented out for a period of time of 30 days or longer, eliminating short-term vacation rentals by the week or by the day.
Town staff and members of the PCDC and the UEB have been working on some recommended changes in policy over the past two months, researching ADU policies for municipalities in Colorado and other states, and responding to direction from the Board of Trustees. Earlier in the summer, the Lyons Board of Trustees directed the PCDC to come up with a work plan that promotes affordable housing through rentals of accessory dwelling units, referring to the Affordable Housing Resolution that the Board of Trustees passed on April 18 for possible incentives and policies to implement (see https://lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/outgoing-trustees-pass-affordable-housing-resolution ).
It’s important to note that ADUs would be market-rate housing, estimated to be lower-priced than other rentals because of the size, but still controlled by the market, or the optional choice of landlords to rent below market rate. According to standard definitions across the country to determine housing-cost burdens, if the rents are less than 30 percent of income of a particular tenant, the rental is considered “affordable” to that tenant. For example, a $1,000-a-month rental that includes utilities ($12,000 a year spent on housing costs) would be “affordable” for an individual who makes more than $40,000 a year (approximately $3,334 a month or more). My example is a math exercise – there’s no telling if market rate ADUs in Lyons will be as low as $1,000 a month, including utilities, or even if they are, how long they will stay that low.
If the time that landlords can rent out for short-term vacation rentals is limited, hopefully, some new apartments can be available for people who work in town and want to find a small place on the lower-end of the rental market, but there is no guarantee that homeowners will rent to long-term tenants. ADUs also can be free or discounted housing for family members (for example, actual mother-in-law apartments) or can support aging-in-place as options for live-in caregivers for people who live in the primary houses.
As a separate issue, many of the people who spoke at the Sept. 12 PCDC public hearing were interested in policy for short term vacation rentals that are not part of ADUs, such as rooms in their homes. On Thursday, Sept. 29, Lyons town staff will hold a focus group for people who currently rent out their homes, or part of their homes, for short term vacation rentals (such as on AirBnB or VRBO websites). If people are renting out rooms or homes in a single-family residential zoned lot in the Town of Lyons, it is not currently a use allowed by right. However, those who participate in the focus group will have a chance to shape future short-term vacation rental policy that will allow some vacation rentals in neighborhoods. It’s a chance to decide what is reasonable for number of people in a vacation rental and how many days a year it is rented out, develop a code of ethics for landlords, and get important advice for dealing with homeowners insurance companies that might drop or not cover homeowners who rent rooms or homes as short-term vacation rentals. Any homeowner who rents out rooms needs to pay attention to homeowners insurance. Contact Lyons Flood Recovery Planner Matthew Manley at Town Hall if you are interested in participating in the focus group: firstname.lastname@example.org.
While rental policies can help Lyons, we still need other affordable housing options that are subsidized and permanently affordable, not dependent on the market. For a 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 town boards and commissions like the PCDC 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.