Published in the September 28, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

A regional plan to address affordable housing

by Amy Reinholds

At the end of this week, the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership is gathering elected officials from towns and cities across the county to help refine a regional plan to address Boulder County’s affordable housing crisis. The goal is to emerge from this summit with a list of issues needed to work through to get to adoption of the plan county-wide by the end of the year. Elected officials will discuss what their jurisdictions are currently doing for affordable housing and what kind of support they need from each other to increase affordable housing.

According to a draft of “Priorities and Strategies for Ensuring a Diverse Housing Inventory,” communities across the county have made strong investments in affordable housing for many decades. “And, yet because of conflicting land use policies and a strong economic climate, it is widely acknowledged that the region is falling short of meeting the need for affordable, attainable, and workforce housing.”

According to the draft document, across Boulder County in a 12-year period, over 9,000 market rental units that were previously affordable to low income households were lost to price inflation and 21,000 market rate homes that were affordable to low, moderate and middle income households (priced below $300,000) were lost to price inflation. The draft of the plan states “Temporary and permanent loss of housing due to the Flood of 2013 put additional pressure on the housing market, and created further strain for low and moderate income households.” It also notes that “The percentage of older, wealthier households is increasing, while households of younger individuals, middle incomes, and families are declining.”

Beginning in 2016, a cross-jurisdictional working group, called the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership, began meeting to bring forward regional strategies. The partnership members include Boulder County staff from Boulder County Boulder County Housing & Human Services and Boulder County Community Services and City of Longmont staff from the Longmont Housing Authority and Longmont Community Services. Members also include City of Boulder staff from Boulder Housing Partners and the Boulder Division of Housing, and also representatives from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and the Boulder Community Investment Program.

The primary focus of the plan is to increase the availability of affordable housing across the region. The Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership identified interconnected issues and opportunities to look at when discussing solutions to the regional affordable housing crisis. The plan identifies themes of business community contributions, transportation-based solutions and collaborations, private developers’ roles in supporting the production of affordable housing, flexibility for each community’s unique needs and character, desire for both affordable homeownership and rental options, and the best methods to communicate the need and the plan to all communities. You can see a draft of the plan that the elected officials will be reviewing at the summit at www.bouldercounty.org/families/housing/housing-energy.

According to the draft, “This plan recognizes that a dramatic increase in local and regional efforts and adoption of multiple strategies and funding sources are required to regain ground in preserving affordability and price diversity in the regional housing inventory.” I agree with an approach that acknowledges there are many pieces in a puzzle to try to solve affordable housing issues.

Strategies listed in the draft of the regional plan include establishing local and regional housing goals, a time frame, acquisition and new development goals, for sale and rental goals, goals to bolster financial resources for affordable housing, goals to secure land and redevelopment opportunities for future housing, goals to preserve existing affordable housing and market-rate attainable housing, and ways to align regulatory processes with housing goals.

It’s good to know that the Town of Lyons, and the Lyons community are not alone in this challenging quest for affordable housing. The Lyons Board of Trustees passed an Affordable Housing Resolution in April 2016 (see www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/220?fileID=323), but this regional plan includes many more ideas for tools to increase affordable housing. And I hope some of the success stories from other communities will provide some inspiration and practical experience to help Lyons.

I’ll continue following this issue and any steps that the Town of Lyons considers based on this plan. According to the draft plan, after the adoption of the goals and strategies, the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership will meet quarterly to review progress and prioritize new opportunities and funding resources. The partnership will report annually to the Boulder County Consortium of Cities, which is an organizational structure to promote interaction and communication among local governments.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. 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.