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Published in the May 17, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder. A similar column was published in the June 13, 2018, edition of the Redstone Review.

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

All Lyons Habitat for Humanity homeowners are selected

by Amy Reinholds

By the end of April, the final round of applicants were selected to purchase the six Habitat for Humanity homes being built in Lyons at 112 Park Street. And the Lyons community can see the progress of two of the duplex buildings so far: the building furthest to the west that contains two homes and the one furthest to the east, which also contains two homes. It’s getting real.

Amanda Anderson is thinking about typical moving activities, including what to keep and what to get rid of for the new house for her new house with her husband, Danny Shafer, and her daughter and son. Since their mobile home was destroyed in the Sept. 2013 flood, Anderson and her family have moved three times to rental homes, first to Longmont, next to Lyons, and now just outside of Lyons town limits in Lyons Park Estates. Finding places to live has been one of the biggest challenges her family has faced since the flood.

“The fun part is knowing I won’t have to move again,” she said.

She and Shafer got a phone message from Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley that their application was selected, and Anderson said “I had to ask several times what that meant. I was scared about getting my hopes up.” She called up a homeowners services staff member who assured her “It’s OK to be happy.”

Wendy Miller, who also was selected to purchase a Habitat home in this application round, described a similar reaction to the phone message. “I didn’t believe it was real for the first 24 or 36 hours,” she said, until she called the Habitat for Humanity office. “It will be a lot more real when I go into the home design meeting to discuss finishes and upgrades,” she said.

All Habitat for Humanity homeowners are working on their volunteer hours (about 250 hours per adult in each household) and attending financial classes count toward those hours. The Personal Investment Enterprise (PIE) program is provided through Community Action Programs of Boulder County and Foothills United Way. As part of the program, a maximum of $1,000 in personal savings is matched 4:1 with a grant, which means the new homeowners could have up to $5,000 total for the downpayment when it is time to close on the their new homes.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit that acts as a builder and a lender of no-interest loans for homeowners. Mortgages are about $150,000 (depending on some custom options). The range of monthly mortgage payments including taxes and insurance will range from about $650 to $850 for all the homeowners in Lyons, depending on income and household size, according to Julie Gallegos, director of family services for Habitat for Humanity of St. Vrain Valley. For example, some homeowners will pay off their mortgages in 25 years, and some in 30 years, depending on the amount of principal they pay each month. As a lender, Habitat will keep pulling credit reports and checking debt-to-income ratio up until closing.

“I was really surprised at how low the mortgage would be without interest, on a home with a $150,000 sales price,” Miller said. “It allows me to save a lot of money, and to have better access for education and activities for my son.” Miller was renting an apartment during the flood in a building that was damaged, and she was unable to return there. After staying with family out of state, she and her son came back to Lyons. She found a house in Lyons to rent for the past few years, but is preoccupied with how precarious the situation is at the end of a lease each year, not knowing if she will need to find another place in the tight rental market in Lyons.

Anderson also described the surprising affect of a no-interest mortgage on the cost. “That is a big deal,” she said. “You can’t find anything for that price in the area, even land for sale.”She expects her mortgage will be less than half of what she is currently paying in rent.

Habitat for Humanity is hopeful that homeowners will be celebrating the 2018 end-of-year holidays in their new homes in Lyons, but the homeowners don’t know yet which home out of the six they will purchase. All four of the homes in the two buildings that are under construction now at 112 Park Street now will have three bedrooms. A third duplex building with the final two homes will be started later. The two homes in that building will be larger with a total of four bedrooms, one of them on the ground floor. These two homes have the option for both accessibility and for larger families. According to Habitat for Humanity, it will be decided who purchases which home based on need, for example family size or need for an accessible first-floor bedroom.

In the previous rounds, applicants were selected for three out of the six homes, and the final round started at the end of January. The preference policy gave first preference 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. For income level requirements in Lyons, preference is for applicants at 60% of area median income or below (and possibly as much as 80% of the area median income was allowed for Lyons). 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.

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 at 112 Park St. (east of 2nd Ave.), south of the former Valley Bank building (which remains on a separate commercial lot). Ferguson and his LLC partners first purchased the entire 0.76-acre commercial parcel from Valley Bank in June 2015 and began a process to subdivide and rezone with the intention to sell to Habitat for Humanity. In June 2015, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to waive water and sewer connection fees that they have control over for Habitat for Humanity. The total of about $173,500 in savings helped Habitat for Humanity meet its permitting and fees budget, keeping mortgages down to about $150,000 for homeowners. Ferguson and his partners took the land through rezoning and subdivision steps, and it July 2016, final rezoning and subdivision was approved by the Lyons Board of Trustees. Habitat for Humanity agreed to complete the required subdivision improvements for the residential lots and bought the parcels in November 2016.

At the four-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 in December 2017, but because of weather, the foundations for the first two buildings weren’t completed until early January. After the foundations were poured, Habitat held a special ground-blessing ceremony on Jan. 13 for the first three families selected to purchase the homes. Another ground-blessing ceremony is expected for the three families selected in the last round.

The ways that the local community can help see these homes to completion falls into two categories: donating and volunteering. To donate specifically to the Lyons construction, go to www.coloradogives.org/rebuildlyons. To volunteer, no specific experience is needed, and training is on the job for each the 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. volunteer shift. 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 Wednesdays through Saturdays.

The Adopt-a-Day sponsorship is an opportunity for groups or businesses to do both. It costs Habitat approximately $2,500 a day to build (costs of materials, permits, and site supervision for example). The combination of volunteer service and a financial contribution of $2,500 doubles the impact of the generous groups on Habitat’s mission. The Lyons Lions Club and its youth chapter “the Leos” are joining together later this year for an Adopt-a-Day sponsorship at the Lyons construction site. There is room for more businesses or organizations to do the same later this summer or fall.

The Saturdays in the summers are usually filled with volunteer groups, but outreach and volunteer coordinator Rebecca Shannon said that the fall is when volunteers are especially needed to see the Lyons construction completed. I’m thinking the 5th anniversary of the flood would be a good time for groups to come together and volunteer or fund the construction. Although Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley has some federal disaster recovery funding, there is still a gap in the costs of building these homes that fundraising and donations must fill.

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. Knowing our neighbors who will be purchasing the new homes is also an exciting inspiration to get involved.

The Town of Lyons lost about 76-94 flood-destroyed homes in the 2013 flood. 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.