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Published in the March 15 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder

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

Lyons Valley Park affordable housing bid awarded to Summit Housing Group 

by Amy Reinholds 

After hearing presentations from two groups brought forward by a selection committee at a special meeting March 12, the Lyons Board of Trustees awarded a bid for an affordable housing development in Lyons Valley Park, Filing 8, Tract A to Summit Housing Group and directed town staff to finalize a memorandum of agreement for consideration by the trustees. 

 Summit Housing Group’s proposal included two options, based on applying for and securing different levels of federal tax credits. Depending on whether the group can meet a June 1 deadline for a higher subsidy of federal tax credits for investors, there could either be 42 rentals available for households who earn 50-60 percent of the area median income, or – if the greater subsidy is attained – more of the 42 rentals could be set aside for households who earn 30-50 percent of the area median income. 

The presentation from Rusty Snow of Summit, showed that 60 percent of the area median income means a range of $41,280-$63,660 annual income for a one- to five-person household, and the range of affordable monthly rents for that income, based on household size, starts at $1033-$1532. The presentation showed that 50 percent of the area median income means a range of $34,400-$53,050 annual income for a one- to five-person household, and the range of affordable monthly rents for that income, based on household size, starts at $921-$1276. If the higher subsidy of federal tax credits are awarded, then the balance of rentals could be lowered to be affordable for individuals and family who earn as low as 30 percent of the area median income, which means a range of $20,640-$31,830 annual income for a one- to five-person household, and the range of affordable monthly rents for that income, based on household size, starts at $552-$766. 

Snow said that Summit conducted a current market survey of the Lyons area, and found that 50-60 percent of the area median income was the biggest need, but the trustees pointed him to previous data that showed a need for housing affordable to people in 30-50 percent of the area median income, based on the incomes of people who were displaced by the 2013 flood. Summit will pursue the option of more tax credit subsidies to provide more rents affordable to those lower income ranges, and the public will hear more about these options as town staff finalizes a memorandum of agreement with Summit for consideration by the trustees. 

 Despite flexibility in the ranges of rents and targets for income levels between the two options, the proposal includes a total of 43 homes (one is for the on-site property manager) in 12 buildings that are two stories. The buildings are planned to look like townhomes and include 24 two-bedroom/2 bath, 1200 s.f. homes, 19 three-bedroom/2 bath, 1500 s.f. homes, and total of 100 parking spots (a ratio of 2.32 per home). Apartment amenities include central heat/air, all appliances, washer and dryer in unit, composite finish counter tops, composite flooring, dark wood cabinets, and community amenities include an on-site manager, a community room, exercise center, community garden, and a children’s play area. Snow said the community will be designed to transition from the surrounding single family homes and add to the already established neighborhood, which will be important throughout the Town of Lyons rezoning process. 

In contrast to the 12 buildings proposed by Summit, if other developers used the current single-family home zoning,  about 25 large single-family homes could be built on the same land, according to Clay Dusel, a Lyons Valley Park resident, and a member of the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission, who spoke at the meeting. An existing example of multifamily buildings in the Lyons Valley Park neighborhood is Lyons Valley Village, a co-housing community. 

 Summit, based in Missoula, Mt., is a development company that specializes in low-income tax credit and mixed-use developments. It develops and manages rental properties in 6 states, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, all which include portions affordable to people who make 60% of the area median incomes or less. The latest homes in Colorado are at 1205 Pace St. in Longmont. 

 The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is a source of funding that helps developers build rental homes at lower cost. A deadline for a higher subsidy of tax credits to cover 70 percent of the units in a project (also referred to as “9 percent tax credits”) is approaching June 1. The 30 percent subsidy (also referred to as the automatic “4 percent tax credits”) has more flexible deadlines, and more options to apply, but it only covers 30 percent of the rentals in a development, and the affordable housing developers must find other sources of funding to make the project work, such as the $4 million in federal disaster recovery block grant funds available for affordable housing in the Town of Lyons. 

 The LIHTC gives investors a reduction in their federal tax liability for every dollar they invest in financing to develop affordable rental housing. The investors’ equity contribution subsidizes the development, allowing housing units to rent at below-market rates. For details about LIHTC, see www.chfainfo.com/arh/lihtc/overview

 On Jan. 29, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase and sale agreement with current owner Keith Bell, which gives the Town of Lyons an option to buy Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8, already intended for 43 units of multifamily housing. The town signed a joint letter of intent between Bell, president of Lyons Valley Park, Inc., who lives in Kansas, and David Wickum of Wickum Properties and Realty, based in 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. According to the agreement, Wickum and the Town of Lyons also plan to work in good faith to share infrastructure costs. 

 A request for proposals (RFP) for affordable housing developers interested in partnering with the town for the Tract A parcel went out on Feb. 2, with a due date of March 5. A selection committee, including representatives from the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Lyons Valley Park Homeowners Association, met March 8 to interview four formal proposals that were submitted, and they brought forward two proposals to the special Board of Trustees meeting on March 12. 

 Although Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8 is already intended for 43 units of multifamily housing, trustees and staff discussed with Summit how rezoning was expected to be required for Summit’s proposal, which will go through multiple meetings with the PCDC and the Board of Trustees, all which include public input.   

In the past two years, the Board of Trustees has been trying to find land for affordable housing, to not lose $4 million in federal Community Development Block Grants – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds set aside for Lyons. Lyons can receive $40,000 in CDBG-DR funds per each new affordable housing unit (up to $4 million total for new affordable housing in town). Other federal funds were 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) was rejected in a town vote: 498 Lyons voters supported it, and 614 Lyons voters opposed it. However, with $4 million still reserved for Lyons in the years that followed, the trustees have been pursuing several smaller options for housing. 

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.

If you are wondering how new affordable rentals will affect the Town of Lyons, you can look at the current total of 26 permanently affordable rentals, which have been in Lyons years before the September 2013 flood: eight apartments at Bloomfield Place near the Stone Cup cafe, 12 apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing near the post office, and six apartments at Mountain Gate on 2nd Ave. I have lived in a neighborhood near Bloomfield Place for 14 years and now am moving to the neighborhood near Mountain Gate, and I periodically attend senior lunches and birthday celebrations at the Walter Self Center community room. I have had only positive interactions with neighbors who rent these homes at Bloomfield Place, Mountain Gate, and Walter Self. These affordable rentals fit right into the existing neighborhoods, and no one notices differences between these rentals and the surrounding homes that are rented or owned. Most people do not know these buildings are subsidized Boulder County Housing Authority rentals. The individuals and families who live in these homes in Lyons are our neighbors. 

 The only in-progress post-flood affordable housing is at 2nd Avenue and Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building six for-sale homes (in three duplexes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. To volunteer on these new homes, sign up at www.stvrainhabitat.org/construction

 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.