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Published in the December 22, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Steps for potential Habitat for Humanity homeowners

by Amy Reinholds

You might have seen the letter that Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley sent to Lyons area residents about the three duplexes that the non-profit, alongside volunteers and future homeowners, will be building on the north side of Park Street, east of 2nd Ave. The six homes will be south of the former Valley Bank building (which remains on a separate commercial lot).

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I collected a list of steps that people who are interested in being future Habitat for Humanity homeowners in Lyons can take. Habitat for Humanity’s purchase of the land took longer than initially expected, and almost didn’t happen several times. But as 2016 comes to close, everyone who worked so hard to see affordable housing in Lyons can look forward to new Habitat for Humanity homes in 2017.

Now that Habitat for Humanity purchased the land on Nov. 17, the organization can move forward with both the application process for new homeowners and the fundraising in the community (although Habitat will receive some federal funds, more than $300,000 is still needed to complete the project). Now we all have the opportunity to sign up to volunteer or donate to help rebuild Lyons, and to spread the word to neighbors who lost their homes who are interested in becoming Habitat homeowners.

The following list of tips, which Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley staff presented a year ago to in Lyons to those interested in owning Habitat homes in Lyons, still is good advice to prepare for the upcoming Jan. 7 orientation, says Erin Minaya, homeowner services coordinator:

  • Know your credit report: Pull your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. This government site, unlike other sites that are for-profit businesses with fees, really is free to request reports once a year from each of the three credit-reporting companies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experion.
  • Calculate your debt-to-income ratio, which should be 41% or less (worksheets are available from Habitat for Humanity).
  • Organize your finances to know where your money goes: Take free Financial Foundation classes offered by Boulder County, and meet with a free financial counselor. Call 720-564-2279 to sign up for either program (free whether or not you choose to apply for a Habitat for Humanity home).
  • Pay off debts to the best of your ability, or start a payment plan.
  • Attend the Jan. 7, 2017, orientation at 10 am at Rogers Hall for interested applicants who were living in the 80540 zip code during the 2013 flood and were displaced from their homes. There will also be an online orientation available Jan 3-10 for those who cannot attend in person, but you must attend one of these orientations to get an application. Contact Erin Minaya at eminaya@stvrainhabitat.org or 303-682-2485 x 104.
  • Communicate with Habitat for Humanity if you move or change phone numbers.

To qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home, people must demonstrate the following points:

  • a need for housing (examples include paying more than a third of your family income on rent, not qualifying for a traditional loan, or living somewhere that is not able to be maintained for health and safety)
  • a willingness to partner with Habitat for Humanity (to follow the home-ownership program, including contributing up to 500 hours of “sweat equity,” depending on family size, by volunteering at the construction site along with other volunteers)
  • ability to pay the Habitat for Humanity mortgage (which is interest-free and profit-free) and provide a down-payment (some assistance is available).

In addition, the 6 Habitat for Humanity homes in Lyons will have an affordability covenant and a preference policy for first preference to applicants displaced from their homes as a result of the flood disaster of 2013, who maintained their primary residence in the Lyons area (80540 zip code) at the time of the flood.

Affordability covenants are used around the country to make sure that the housing units that are invested in by the community don’t become unaffordable to low- and moderate-income buyers in the future. With an affordability covenant, you agree that if you sell your home, it has to be to a qualified buyer who makes no more than 60% of the median income of the region, and that the increase in value in your sales price can’t be more than the consumer price index. Also, Habitat for Humanity homes must be owner occupied. Note that if you leave the area for a job, you can’t rent out the home.

As described in the 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 five to seven acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election.

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