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Published in the February 1, 2018, edition of  the Lyons Recorder

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

Town authorizes agreement with Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park to purchase land for affordable housing

by Amy Reinholds

Back in October, the Lyons Board of Trustees started holding executive sessions (closed to the public) to discuss possible real estate transactions with various property owners who were interested in selling land to the Town of Lyons for affordable housing. On Monday, Jan. 29, the public found out who one of those property owners is: Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park, Inc.

At a special meeting Monday night, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase agreement for Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8. Filing 8 states that up to 43 multifamily units are intended.

A joint letter of intent was completed at the end of the day Jan. 26 between Bell, president of Lyons Valley Park, Inc., who lives in Kansas, and both David Wickum of Wickum Properties and Realty and the Town of Lyons. It states the Town of Lyons intends to purchase Tract A and work with public and private sectors to replace some of the housing lost in the 2013 flood, and that Wickum intends to purchase Lots 15-32 of Block 2 to develop single-family housing. If either Wickum or the Town of Lyons discontinues pursuing an intended purchase, Bell and Lyons Valley Park, Inc., will negotiate with the other party for a possible purchase. For example, if Wickum discontinues purchasing the Block 2 lots, the Town of Lyons could negotiate to purchase those as well. A price for all the tracts and lots won’t be negotiated until an appraisal is conducted, per Bell’s request. Wickum and the Town of Lyons also plan to work in good faith to share infrastructure costs.

All four trustees at the meeting approved the resolution, 4-0. Trustees Barney Dreistadt and Mike Karavas were out of town, on the phone, and could not vote officially, but they also voiced their support. “I’m delighted we’re at this point,” Dreistadt said.

Trustee Dan Greenberg, who created the first Lyons housing recovery task force in the aftermath of the flood at the end of 2013, made a motion for the resolution, and Trustee Wendy Miller, who served on a special housing committee in 2015-2016 and ran as a trustee on a platform supporting affordable housing, seconded it.

“This is a cause of celebration,” Greenberg said. “The board was united on this effort. This is a great way for the board to wrap up the term.” Greenberg, who has served as Mayor Pro-Tem during his third term on the board, is term-limited, and is celebrating affordable housing actions during his last months on the board.

“So many people in town have said I really want to support affordable housing, as long as it’s not in the park,” Greenberg said. “And this is not in the park.”

“I’m over the moon,” Miller said. “I think this is the perfect spot.”

“I appreciate Keith Bell working with us,” Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen said. “This was his vision for the area as long as he owned the property,” she said, referring to multifamily housing near the Lyons Middle and Senior High School.

Of course, this first agreement to purchase land does not mean the proposal is a done deal, and the mayor and trustees expressed that more hard work is ahead. Now that there is a purchase agreement, the next step is for town staff to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for developing affordable housing. Organizations that build and manage affordable housing can apply. And of course, there will be public hearings about the proposed land purchase and proposed housing as part of standard processes.

In terms of federal and state funding, “affordable housing” typically means rentals or for-sale homes that are affordable to people who make 60 percent of the area median income or less. Right now, 60 percent of the area median income is about $42,000 a year for an individual or $48,000-$50,000 for a two-person household. For that income range, monthly rent that is affordable is around $1,300, depending on family size. To be “affordable,” housing costs should not be more than 30 percent of a household gross income.

At the same Jan. 29 meeting, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing an intergovernmental joint agreement between the Town Of Lyons, the State Of Colorado (Department Of Local Affairs, Division Of Housing) about using remaining $4 million in federal flood recovery funds in Lyons for affordable housing.

Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds have been earmarked for the Town of Lyons for affordable housing by a Boulder County Collaborative group that was determining priorities of federal flood-recovery dollars in the past several years.

Even though a much larger amount of federal money was lost in 2015 when a proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 units) that was voted down 614 to 498 by Lyons voters, the Boulder County Collaborative and the State of Colorado determined to save $4 million for Lyons affordable housing in later rounds of the CDBG-DR funding.

“We really need to thank the Boulder County Collaborative and the state for not giving up on Lyons,” Mayor Connie Sullivan said. “Also, this has happened with a lot of hard work from town staff. It has been a minute-by-minute thing.”

CDBG-DR funds are grants from HUD “to help cities, counties, parishes, and states recover from presidentially declared disasters, especially in low- and moderate-income areas,” according to the HUD website at www.hud.gov/hudprograms/disaster-recovery.

On Monday night, the mayor and trustees explained that Lyons can receive a maximum of $40,000 in CDBG-DR funds per each new affordable housing unit. Therefore, Lyons will only get the full $4 million if funding a total of 100 new affordable units.

Lyons could be close to getting that full funding, if all proposed projects happen. The Lyons Valley Park Tract A is platted for 43 multifamily units. On the eastern corridor of Lyons, a partnership has submitted a proposal to purchase town-owned land that includes 45 affordable rental units built and managed by Thistle, a community non-profit. Also, Habitat for Humanity is building 6 homes (in three duplexes), currently underway at 2nd and Park streets. Trustees and town staff discussed at the meeting whether those 6 homes might be able to count, even though already underway.

The state has said that the town must take action and sign all purchase and sale agreements by end of January, Mayor Sullivan explained at the meeting. “We have stretched the elastic as far as it will go.”

The trustees directed town staff to inquire with the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs if another purchase and sale agreement for another parcel that is expected to come before the trustees at their Feb. 5 meeting could also be included, a slight extension of the Jan. 31 deadline.

“There are still other projects, we’re pursuing,” Sullivan said. In previous columns, I covered the $4 million in federal disaster recovery funds available for the Town of Lyons that the board of trustees did not want to lose.

To get an accurate number of housing stock lost in the September 2013 flood, there are two ways to count. First, according to counts of Town of Lyons water taps/customer accounts, 94 customer accounts were lost after the flood (taking into account the 32 homes in Riverbend Mobile Home Park that were originally part of one water tap). However, some of those customer accounts were on Apple Valley Road (not in town limits), and some lots in town have more than one water tap/customer account. A second way to count is the number of flood-damaged homes in the Town of Lyons lost to both the federal buyout programs and to the changed use of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use), which totals 76 lost residential units. Federal buyouts totaled 44 units – including all residential units in the Foothills Mobile Home Park – and there were also 32 families who lost homes in the Riverbend Mobile Home Park, which was rezoned as a commercial wedding and lodging venue after the flood.

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.