Published in the January 25, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Orientation for Habitat for Humanity applicants this Saturday
by Amy Reinholds
Anyone interested in applying for the remaining three available Habitat for Humanity homes under construction at 2nd and Park in Lyons can participate in the third application round this month. Applicants must attend an orientation session either in person at Rogers Hall (at 4th and High Streets) in Lyons this Saturday, Jan. 27 at 10 a.m., or complete an online orientation at www.stvrainhabitat.org by Jan. 30. People whose applications weren’t accepted in previous rounds can participate in this round but still must attend the orientation either in person or online.
In the previous rounds, applicants were selected for three out of the six homes in the three duplexes that Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building in Lyons. The preference policy remains the same order in this round of applications. First preference for the new homes is for applicants displaced 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, all selected applicants are in the first preference category.
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit that acts as a builder and a lender of no-interest loans for homeowners. 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. A permanently affordable restriction means that homeowners who sell their homes in the future must sell to qualified buyers who are in that same income range.
To qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home, people must demonstrate the following points:
- a need for housing (examples include paying more than a third of your family income on rent, not qualifying for a traditional loan, or living somewhere that is not able to be maintained for health and safety)
- a willingness to partner with Habitat for Humanity (to follow the home-ownership program, including contributing up to 500 hours of “sweat equity,” depending on family size, by volunteering at the construction site along with other volunteers on construction of their home and their neighbors’ homes)
- an ability to pay the Habitat for Humanity mortgage (which is interest-free and profit-free) and provide a down-payment (some assistance is available).
To be selected, applicants 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, Habitat for Humanity reports that the most common challenges to qualifying are related to debt-to-income ratio and credit reports.
Cassie Walters, whose application was selected in an earlier round to purchase one of the homes, encourages others who are seeking affordable homeownership in Lyons to stick with the application process. “The paperwork is time consuming and needs to be organized,” Walters said. “If you take the time and present all they are asking for, it’s totally worth it!”
The following list of tips, which Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley staff presented at previous meetings and orientations, is good advice for preparing to apply to purchase one of the Lyons homes:
- Know your credit report: Pull your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. This government site, unlike other sites that are for-profit businesses with fees, really is free to request reports once a year from each of the three credit-reporting companies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experion.
- Calculate your debt-to-income ratio, which should be 41% or less (worksheets are available from Habitat for Humanity).
- Organize your finances to know where your money goes: Take free Financial Foundation classes offered by Boulder County, and meet with a free financial counselor. Call 720-564-2279 to sign up for either program (free whether or not you choose to apply for a Habitat for Humanity home).
- Pay off debts to the best of your ability, or start a payment plan.
- Communicate with Habitat for Humanity to make sure they have your latest information. For information about orientation or the selection process contact Erin Minaya at 303-682-2485, ext. 104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley 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. For more information about the Lyons application process, see www.stvrainhabitat.org/program-application-process/.
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 2017, the construction plan for public improvements that Habitat for Humanity was required to complete was approved by the Town of Lyons engineering staff. At the 4 year anniversary of the flood in September 2017, Habitat for Humanity held a site-blessing and ground-breaking ceremony on the land. During the fall, Habitat for Humanity continued work to select contractors to do the public improvement infrastructure work and the foundations of the three duplexes, and worked with the Town of Lyons and the Lyons Fire Protection District for required building permits for the homes.
At the 4 year anniversary of the flood in September 2017, Habitat for Humanity held a site-blessing and ground-breaking ceremony on the land. During the fall, Habitat for Humanity continued work to select contractors to do the public improvement infrastructure work and the foundations of the three duplexes, and worked with the Town of Lyons and the Lyons Fire Protection District for required building permits for the homes. The foundation work began the week of Dec. 18, but because of weather, all the foundations weren’t poured until early January. After the foundations were poured, Habitat held a special groundbreaking ceremony on Jan. 13 for the three households already selected to purchase the homes.
Now is an exciting time for the Lyons community to watch the progress on the first new affordable housing constructed after the September 2013 flood – and to volunteer time on the construction. 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, where 32 families used to live, to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use).
Lyons residents who want to volunteer constructing the three duplexes at 112 Park St. (east of 2nd Ave.) can sign up for volunteer days on the Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley website this week. Volunteers are needed Wednesdays through Saturdays. On the website at www.stvrainhabitat.org/construction, after clicking FLOOD REBUILD-LYONS, volunteers can sign up for one or more of the specific days they are available.
Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley was a partner in a previous proposal for affordable housing in March 2015 that Town of Lyons voters rejected. 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) was voted down 614 to 498 by Lyons voters in March 2015. Despite many challenges, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley did not give up on the Town of Lyons. Now we can all help the organization by volunteering or donating.
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.