Published in the February 9, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

State bills aim to encourage affordable housing

by Amy Reinholds

A couple of bills in the Colorado state legislature this year aim to encourage more affordable housing in the state. One bill to make it easier for private developers who aren’t housing authorities or government entities to build, own, and rent out permanently affordable rentals died in the senate this week. Another bill, a construction litigation reform bill that aims to encourage developers to build more condos, has been introduced and is under consideration, not yet scheduled for the senate floor.

Senate Bill 86, sponsored by Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder), whose constituents include Lyons, sponsored a bill to clarify that the Colorado statute prohibiting rent control on private residential housing units does not prohibit local governments from adopting housing programs with permanently affordable rates for rentals, sometimes called inclusionary housing programs. Fenberg said that the bill, which would have allowed developers (instead of a housing authority or government) to more easily own a permanently affordable rental unit, resulting in more affordable rentals built in market-rate development projects, died on a party-line vote this week.

Senate Bill 156, sponsored by Senator Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), Representative Lori Saine (R-Firestone), and Representative Cole Wist (R-Centennial), intends to reduce the number of lawsuits for faulty construction of condominiums in current Colorado construction defect law, a barrier some developers have blamed for a slow-down of condo development in Colorado. Supporters of reforming the constructions defect laws hope to encourage more condo development in Colorado, which is a lower-cost home-ownership model.

The Homeownership Opportunity Alliance – a diverse collaboration of business groups, affordable housing advocates like Habitat for Humanity, developers, contractors, and metro area mayors (including the Town of Lyons mayor) – supports Senate Bill 156. For the bill to succeed, the Republican sponsors will have to find Democrat supporters as well, balancing the goal to reduce the number of lawsuits filed for faulty construction but still to protect the consumer rights of people buying condos in Colorado.

The current Colorado construction defect law, created to protect would-be home buyers from poor workmanship in new construction, allows as few as two condo owners to bring a class-action suit against a builder, and does not allow the builder to make fixes before the suit proceeds. With these current laws, developers have said that builders are less inclined to begin condo projects.

If there are fewer condos built, they are harder to find for entry-level or first-time homebuyers. However, Colorado doesn’t want condo homeowners to be at risk for shoddy construction, either. It’s a balance.

The Denver Business Journal reported in late January that House Speaker Crisanta Duran, (D-Denver) said she was open to changing the law to have a greater threshold than the current two required homeowners to participate in construction defects lawsuits.

As of Feb. 7, the bill was still under consideration but not scheduled.

I expect to write more about bills and proposed changes in state law that will affect Colorado and Lyons. On the local front, keep up with local Town of Lyons meetings for the elected Lyons Board of Trustees and appointed town boards and commissions on the town calendar at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. All meetings are open to the public, and many include portions of the agenda for public comment.

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. 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) on five to seven acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election. At the end of 2016, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley purchased six residential lots to build three permanently affordable duplexes.

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.