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Published in the December 29, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Top 5 things to know about affordable housing in the new year

by Amy Reinholds

It’s that time of transition when individuals, organizations, and businesses reflect on what happened in the past year and set goals for the upcoming year. Here in Lyons, we’ll have the opportunity to work on the first new affordable housing since the 2013 flood with the start of six Habitat for Humanity homes. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do in Lyons on the path to post-flood housing recovery. How does affordable housing affect you? I’ve summarized some top issues at the forefront of our affordable housing challenge in Lyons.

Here are the top 5 things to know about affordable housing in Lyons:

1. Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley finally owns land in Lyons.

Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley (a chapter of the Habitat for Humanity nonprofit that is based in Longmont) is now the owner of 6 residential parcels on Park Street, east of 2nd Ave, south of the former Valley Bank building (which remains on a separate commercial lot). The non-profit organization plans to build 3 duplexes and is starting the application process the first week of January.

Several different parties owned that land in the past two years, but now Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley has control of the residential parcels and can begin the work needed to build homes. Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley bought the 6 residential lots on Nov. 17, 2016, from Craig Ferguson and his LLC partners. In July 2016, the Lyons Board of Trustees unanimously approved final rezoning and subdivision steps, and after the plat was recorded with the county, Craig Ferguson and his LLC partners sold the 6 lots for 3 duplexes to Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity will complete the required subdivision improvements for the residential lots.

In June 2015, Craig Ferguson purchased the entire 0.76-acre commercial parcel from Valley Bank. Later that month, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to waive water and sewer connection fees that they have control over for Habitat for Humanity. 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 is a non-profit that acts as a builder and a lender of no-interest loans for homeowners.

2. Donate money, your hard work, or both. 

In 2017, we can put our money and our hammers where our mouths were in our past verbose debates about affordable housing. There’s a small but real project now that we can all get behind.

You probably saw a letter from Habitat for Humanity in the mail that explains how you can donate or volunteer to help rebuild in Lyons. The letter states that Habitat for Humanity can only build as fast as there are volunteers and funding.

Although Habitat will receive some federal funds, more than $300,000 is still needed to complete the project in Lyons. For more information about volunteering and donating to help this long-awaited project in Lyons, see www.stvrainhabitat.org.

3. Don’t be discouraged about applying for Habitat for Humanity home ownership. Go for it! 

If you lost your home in the 80540 zip code area during the 2013 flood and want to be a Habitat for Humanity homeowner, you must attend either a Saturday, Jan. 7, orientation at 10 am at Rogers Hall in Lyons or an online orientation available Jan 3-10 for those who cannot attend in person.

Even though the development at 2nd Ave and Park Street only has 6 homes, I’ve talked to people who are Habitat for Humanity homeowners and who work for Habitat for Humanity who advise people not to be discouraged when seeing the number of other applicants. You might be surprised and find that you qualify and are a better match to buy a home at this time than others who apply. Even if the odds aren’t incredibly high, you still could be one of those whose applications are accepted. Sometimes applicants are outside of the income limits (either too low or too high) or aren’t aware of what is on their credit report.

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. For some tips on how to prepare for buying a Habitat for Humanity home, see previous columns at https://lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.

For questions about the required orientation and application process, contact Erin Minaya at eminaya@stvrainhabitat.org or 303-682-2485 x 104. More information is available at www.stvrainhabitat.org.

4. Know your AMIs.

With acronyms like AMI, part of the alphabet soup tossed around at meetings, it’s hard to know what it actually means when someone talks about what is “affordable” for different percentages of our area median income (AMI). Here’s a quick point of reference: the current area median income (AMI) for a single person with no dependents is $66,400 a year, and for a family of four is $94,800. Basically, if you’ve got a larger family, you’ve got to have a higher income to still be at the median income.

To figure out the percentages, you can do the math or see the table at http://www.leaflyons.org/resources.html. For example, a one-person household that earns 60% of the area median income makes about $39,840 a year, and a four-person household that earns 60% of the area median income makes about $56,880 a year.

“Affordable” means not spending more than 30% of monthly income on housing. Following the same example, the single person with no dependents with a $39,840 annual income could afford rent that is no higher than $996 a month, and the family of four with a $56,880 annual income could afford rent that is no higher than $1,422 a month. The area median income does change, so the chart will change when the numbers are updated.

5. Save money on building an accessory dwelling unit in the town limits of Lyons.

There are no additional tap fees for carriage houses, mother-in-law apartments, or other accessory dwelling units (ADUs) now in the town limits of Lyons, thanks to changes in Town ordinances that the Board of Trustees approved earlier this month. If you’ve been thinking about building an ADU, but you said the utility connection/tap costs were too high, now is the time to do it. However, make sure to find out how fire codes apply from the Lyons Fire Protection District (which the Lyons Board of Trustees does not have control over). More information is available at http://lyonsfire.org/need-to-know/fire-inspection-permit. Also, if you are in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, make sure that your homeowners association allows ADUs. I’m interested in hearing your story. Why do you want to build an extra apartment in your house or garage? Who will you rent it to? Do you feel this helps add rentals that are affordable to people who work in Lyons?

Have questions about any of these issues, or ideas about what we can do in Lyons? I would like to hear your thoughts on what will work in Lyons. Email me at areinholds@ hotmail.com.

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 7 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 https://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.

I wish you all the best for the new year. I’m looking forward to volunteering on the Habitat for Humanity homes with you and all our neighbors.