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Published in the September 7, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder

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

Habitat ground blessing Sept. 13, four years after the flood

by Amy Reinholds

Next Wednesday is the four-year anniversary of the flooding disaster that profoundly affected the Town of Lyons. Although about 70 homes were lost and not yet rebuilt, we can celebrate one small blessing, which will be very meaningful to six families who will be new Habitat for Humanity homeowners in the coming years. At 5 p.m. on Sept. 13, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley will hold a “ground blessing” ceremony at the land the non-profit purchased last year on Park Street, east of 2nd Ave.

Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley wants to mark the start of the site work for the three permanently affordable duplexes (six homes total). The project itself is a community asset, and the ground blessing is an opportunity to come together to mark the date that the site infrastructure work begins, according to Dave Emerson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley. It aligns with other Town of Lyons flood recovery events that commemorate 4 years after the flood: Tours of Bohn Park at 5:30 p.m. and a Town Hall Flood Recovery Update meeting at 7 p.m.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit that acts as a builder and a lender of no-interest loans for homeowners. First preference for the new homes is for 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. If all six homes can’t be filled with homeowners in the first preference category, the second and third preferences are for applicants from surrounding areas who were displaced by the 2013 flood, and those with ties to the Lyons 80540 area, such as current local residents, families of Lyons students, and area employees.

So far, applicants have been selected for three out of the six homes, and all are in the first preference category. Another application round will start in January 2018. For income level requirements in Lyons, preference is for applicants at 60% of area median income or below, but households that earn as much as 80% of the area median income can also be included.

In addition to agreeing to partner with Habitat to put in volunteer hours on construction of their home and their neighbors’ homes, applicants must meet other requirements for mortgages. For example, they must have a debt-to-income ratio of 43% or lower (more flexible than what traditional lenders require) and have credit reports that meet specific requirements. As with any mortgage application, the most common challenges to 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.

You can read more about the Habitat for Humanity application process at www.stvrainhabitat.org/lyons. Applicants from the earlier rounds whose applications weren’t accepted can meet with Habitat staff to discuss needed steps to take for the third round in January.

In November 2016, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley purchased six residential lots from Craig Ferguson of Planet Bluegrass and his LLC. The lots are on Park Street, east of 2nd Ave, south of the former Valley Bank building (which remains on a separate commercial lot). At the end of July, the construction plan for public improvements that Habitat for Humanity must complete was approved by the Town of Lyons engineering staff. Then Habitat for Humanity selected a contractor to do the public improvement infrastructure work. The infrastructure work is expected to take about 3 to 4 months but can overlap with foundation work for the duplexes. Volunteers to work on construction of homes probably are not needed until later this year, after at least the foundation for the first duplex is completed.

This ground breaking wouldn’t be happening without Lyons Special Housing Committee volunteer Tom Delker suggesting in 2015 that Craig Ferguson subdivide and sell land to Habitat for Humanity. And it wouldn’t be happening without Ferguson and his LLC partners investing in the Valley Bank land originally and then completing the PUD and subdivision process and selling the residential lots to Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley. And it wouldn’t be happening without the Lyons Board of Trustees waiving utility connection fees that the town has control over for these 6 homes. And, finally, it wouldn’t be happening without Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley’s perseverance and commitment to the Lyons community.

Walk south of the old Valley Bank building on Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. Look for the world’s biggest shovel to break the ground – and a very big collective heart from the Lyons community to bless the site of these new homes.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. 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 the 16 homes in the Foothills Mobile Home Park) and to the changed use of the Riverbend 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 and expects to start work this fall.