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

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

Board of Trustees hears affordable housing updates

by Amy Reinholds

The Lyons Board of Trustees heard several reports related to affordable housing at their March 6 meeting.

During the audience business portion of the meeting, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley Executive Director David Emerson gave an update on the steps taking place for 6 permanently affordable homes at 2nd and Park. Habitat for Humanity purchased the land near the end of 2016 and is working on the needed infrastructure work now, and is in the middle of the selection process for Habitat for Humanity homeowners. The first round of applications just completed, which was open only for people who were living in the 80540 area at the time of the 2013 flood and were displaced. That same group of people continue to have first priority in the second round of applications, which starts March 25. The second round also opens up to people who were living in Boulder County and displaced by the 2013 flood, and other people who have attachments to Lyons such as working in town or having children in Lyons schools.

Emerson said that two applications are moving forward after the first round, and Habitat has been meeting with several applicants in the past week for more information about next steps for required program qualifications. The applications that weren’t ready in the first round resulted in denial letters sent to applicants, which Emerson said Habitat is required by law to send. But he described the application process as tough for applicants and gut-wrenching for Habitat staff. However, St. Vrain Habitat has seen with experience that many homeowners with rejected applications are accepted on the second try.

“Five out of applicants who got the 10 most recent homes in Longmont were accepted on the second time applying,” he said.

In June, about 60-80 Americorps volunteers will be working for the St. Vrain Habitat for Humanity, and Emerson said they hope by that time they hope to be framing 2 to 4 of the homes in Lyons.

You can read more about the selection process for Habitat for Humanity in my December 2016 column at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/steps-for-potential-habitat-for-humanity-homeowners-2/. As with any mortgage application, the most common issues with qualifying are related to debt-to-income ratio and credit reports. St. Vrain Habitat mortgages are usually about $150,000, and have no interest. Monthly mortgage payments, including escrow are set at 27% of the household gross monthly income.

Applicants from the first round whose applications weren’t accepted can meet with Habitat staff to discuss needed steps to take, and as mentioned earlier, they will still have first preference in the second round. Anyone who hasn’t already applied but is eligible and interested can get more information here about the next applicant orientation on March 25: www.stvrainhabitat.org/lyons.

During the Boards and Commissions report, the chair of the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC), Gregg Oetting, and Matt Manley, a member of the Town of Lyons planning staff, gave updates on topics related to affordable housing. Manley said that the Town of Lyons efforts to remove the utility fees to encourage accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been positive, and many homeowners in Lyons are asking for more information about the process to build a separate apartment on their single-family home residential lots. ADUs are small apartments in either the existing house, a garage or separate outbuilding. The PCDC and the Board of Trustees changed town code to encourage more lower-cost long-term rentals that people who work in town can afford.

The Board of Trustees had asked the PCDC to look into whether tiny homes on wheels could be included in the ADU policy and allowed as permanent structures like stick-built buildings. Oetting and Manley reported on the difficulties in the building codes and building inspections. Tiny homes on wheels (which have a vehicle license like RVs) don’t fit into the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards for manufactured housing (mobile homes), the International Residential Code (IRC) that the building inspector company hired by the Town of Lyons (and inspectors for municipalities around the country) use, or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1192 Standard on Recreational Vehicles, which currently applies to any RV but is not intended for year-round living.

Manley said the Town of Lyons would have to create its own standards for tiny homes or take a stance to rework existing standards through the conditional use process and RV standards. Manley said the next step for the PCDC on this issue is to see if the commissioners are comfortable recommending using other standards for tiny homes as part of the conditional use review process. Oetting said that the Town of Lyons doesn’t have a history of writing its own building codes. Also, even if Lyons does arrive at its own building code standards for tiny homes, issues remain, such as finding manufacturers who will follow those standards, and getting an inspection process in place. The town’s current inspectors don’t want to inspect anything that is not using the IRC standards.

Oetting and Manley also reported that the PCDC might be closer to drafting a recommendation for changes to town code to allow limited short-term vacation rentals in rooms of homes that are owner-occupied. Currently, short term vacation rentals are not allowed in residential zones in Lyons unless there is a conditional use review for a bed and breakfast.

The trustees did ask if there was any feedback on whether people who are currently renting out rooms on vacation rental sites (in violation of current town code) couldn’t do vacation rentals, would they rent out rooms or part of their homes for long-term rentals. And they discussed if people buying homes in Lyons, with the expectation that they could make regular income by renting out rooms for short-term vacation rentals, would drive up housing prices.

Finally, next Monday, March 13, is a PCDC public hearing for the Primary Planning Area master plan, which will serve as a guide for future annexation requests, if property owners petition to annex to the Town of Lyons. The goal of this document is to describe what types of land use are possible, based on geography, economically viability, and other community and governmental factors. See www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_03132017-711?html=true for the final master plan and appendix. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall.

All 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 in Lyons 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.