Published in the February 23, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Solving big problems by building local community

by Amy Reinholds

Since November, several people have shared stories with me about being disheartened after the presidential election but then motivated to take action to help make the country and the world a better place. The November 2016 national election was not the first time I felt discouraged by election results and a campaign where falsehoods were presented as facts. The most recent time I felt like this was in March 2015 after a post-flood local Town of Lyons special election, when 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.

The good news? When people see problems aren’t solved in an election, they get to work addressing problems in other ways. After the March 2015 election, as an anecdote to what is now called “fake news,” I started writing monthly columns in the Lyons Recorder and other local papers, and blogging at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. And I got involved with more groups looking for solutions for affordable housing.

After the November 2016 election, many Americans, including several Lyons area residents, are inspired to volunteer and organize to protect not only the health of the land, but also a living wage for workers, and the well-being of marginalized neighbors – to make America a kinder place. A local group in the Lyons community has formed with the following mission statement: “Colorado Conscious Action protects human rights and our environment through citizen engagement, education, and empowerment. We value tolerance, respect, and diversity, and bring conscious voice and action in support of justice for all.” With this new movement, I’m now in the company of some Lyons community members who campaigned or voted on the opposite side of the local March 2015 special election about affordable housing in Bohn Park. It’s an opportunity for me to listen and learn about others’ views and what brings us together.

I’m grateful for the positive guidance in Sarah van Gelder’s new book “The Revolution Where You Live.” Now available at the Lyons Regional Library, the inspiring book gives examples of communities that are solving big problems locally at a grassroots level, places she visited on a 12,000 mile trip across the country in August-December 2015. You can ask for it next time you visit our local library in Lyons, reserve it at lyons.catalog.aspencat.info/Record/898027, or buy your own copy at revolutionwhereyoulive.org.

The author traveled to 18 states, visiting American Indian reservations, large industrial cities, and small towns. She tells the stories of communities that stopped coal mining and fracking, and found new economies instead, and communities both rural and urban that created farming cooperatives and worker-owned businesses after corporate economies failed. Other communities she visited were promoting healing through restorative justice, healthy pregnancies, and reconciliation from a legacy of racism.

She observed five strategies that worked: building bridges between people who are separated, reconnecting to a community’s ecological home, rebuilding the local economy, building power, and creating spaces for healing, creativity, and spirit.

“Revolutionaries of the past have looked for something grand, something more important than community-level change,” van Gelder writes. “But change that starts from the bottom up is more like evolution, drawing on the full complexity of who we are. That complexity is possible in the rich networks of interaction with people that happens at the local level. Face-to-face, we are less likely to stereotype each other or resort to oversimplified ideologies.”

The book includes a list of “101 Ways to Reclaim Local Power,” a valuable resource. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Learn about the original people whose land you live on, acknowledge them, and share their stories.
  • Find out who in your community is not free (such as buried in debt, in prison), and support their vision of liberation, or at least help them connect.
  • Hold celebrations featuring diverse foods, music, dance, and art from cultures and traditions that make up your community.
  • Recognize that traumatized people need to define for themselves what they require to heal, and they don’t need to be second-guessed or “helped.”
  • Encourage retiring business owners to sell their businesses to their workers, and help the workers form cooperatives.
  • Crunch local government data on the affects of policies on the well-being of various groups of people, the environment, and the community as a whole, and share with journalists and the public.
  • Learn about police practices in your community: Are people of color or immigrants disproportionately stopped, arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced? Are police confiscating property, or is the inability to pay fines resulting in extended prison time? What is the mechanism for civilian oversight?
  • With your neighbors, prepare for natural disasters and other emergencies. Structure plans around the most vulnerable.
  • Sponsor election debates. The people who are most marginalized should moderate and ask the most questions.
  • Hold regular shared meals (in parks, community centers, or churches) that are free, so people who are hungry can participate without shame.

After 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) and to the changed use of a second mobile home park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use). At the end of 2016, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley purchased six residential lots to build three permanently affordable duplexes.

For history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) about affordable housing in the Lyons Recorder. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.