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Published in the Dec. 14, 2016, edition of the Redstone Review.

COMMENTARY: Affordable Housing in Lyons

2016 ends with hope: Habitat land purchase, ADU policy

By Amy Reinholds
Affordable Housing Columnist
Redstone Review

LYONS – At the end of 2016, two routes for affordable housing are now finally underway in Lyons. The first is a small project, a subsidized home-ownership option for 6 households, and the second is an uncertain plan to add more lower-end market-rate rentals. But both show progress not previously made in Lyons flood recovery.

Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley closed Nov. 17 on the purchase of 6 residential lots at 2nd and Park Streets from Craig Ferguson and his LLC partners. Now that Habitat for Humanity owns the land, the organization can move forward with both the application process for new homeowners and the fundraising in the community to build three duplexes (although Habitat will receive some federal funds, more than $300,000 is still needed to complete the project).

Interested applicants who were living in the 80540 zip code during the 2013 flood and were displaced from their homes should attend a Jan. 7 orientation at 10 am at Rogers Hall. There will also be an online orientation available Jan 3-10 for those who cannot attend in person. Interested applicants can contact Erin Minaya at eminaya@stvrainhabitat.org or 303-682-2485 x 104.

South of the former Valley Bank building (which remains on a separate commercial lot), the future homes will be permanently affordable, based on a covenants for resale, administered by Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity works with homeowners who earn between $22,000-$40,000 a year, depending on family size. Habitat homeowners pay no-interest, no-profit mortgages to Habitat for Humanity and invest in 250 to 500 hours of “sweat equity,” depending on family size, building their own homes and their neighbors’ homes.

As described in a letter sent to Lyons residents, Habitat for Humanity can only build as fast as there are volunteers and funding. For more information about applications, volunteering, and donating to help this long-awaited project in Lyons, see www.stvrainhabitat.org.

When the new Habitat for Humanity duplexes are constructed, Lyons will have 6 more homes toward those lost in the September 2013 flood. The Town of Lyons lost a total of about 70 flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including one buy out of a mobile home park expected to close soon) and to the changed use of a second mobile home park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use). In March 2015, a proposal for subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority 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 special election.

Owning a home is not an option that works for everyone. Many employees of local businesses struggle to find options they can afford to rent in town. The Lyons Board of Trustees voted Dec. 5 to change town ordinances about accessory dwelling units (ADUs) with the hope of encouraging more mother-in-law apartments and carriage houses on single-family residential lots in town limits. Because the ADUs are smaller, rents are expected to be at the lower end of the market, but unlike the Habitat homes, the rents aren’t subsidized or guaranteed to be permanently affordable to particular income ranges.

The biggest change is allowing ADUs on single-family home lots to share tap fees with the primary house (saving property owners utility connection fees, approximately $15,000-$16,000). This recommendation came out of research by the PCDC and Town Staff of other municipalities in Colorado and other states, and was also agreed upon by the Lyons Utilities and Engineering Board.

The new changes require owner occupancy (of at least 6 months of the year) in either the main house or the ADU. Owners would be able to rent out either the main house or the ADU, but not both at the same time. However, on a case-by-case basis, exceptions for the owner occupancy would be allowed for periods up to 2 years.

To encourage providing rental housing for employees of local businesses (instead of short-term vacation lodging), it is required that owners only rent out the space for terms of 30 days or longer.

The original Town of Lyons ADU ordinance, established in 2013 after the flood, allows small apartments to be permitted on single-family residential lots, but no homeowners in Lyons have applied to participate in the program.

Now that a barrier that many have said made building ADUs financially prohibitive is removed, we’ll see how many Lyons homeowners can and do move forward to build ADUs to provide more rental opportunities. Even then, ADUs probably won’t be added in all parts of town. Some neighborhoods with homeowners associations are likely to prohibit ADUs.

I’m planning to continue writing a column in the Redstone Review in 2017, as we see some of the first new affordable housing built to replace homes lost in the 2013 flood. Right now, there are only 6 new homes planned out of about 70 lost, but those homes will make a difference for 6 families. Let’s ring in the new year in Lyons with some community volunteer action! 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 supposed to be posted on the town calendar at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. This column is a monthly commentary in the Redstone Review. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, contact me directly at areinholds@ hotmail.com.