Published in the May 31, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Church donates land for affordable apartments in Longmont
by Amy Reinholds
The Inn Between celebrates a ground breaking for Micah Homes in Longmont on May 31 on land previously owned by United Church of Christ Longmont, about three years after a church member first had the idea that her congregation could help with the local housing need.
According to The Inn Between, a nonprofit in Longmont that provides supportive housing, case management, and life skills training, the Micah project expands a permanent supporting housing program that addresses the needs of those living on very low fixed incomes, particularly the elderly and disabled. The name is derived from biblical passages in the Book of Micah about overcoming injustice and defending the rights of the poor. The six 400 – 500 sq. ft. permanent supportive homes for low-income, homeless, or at-risk individuals are being funded by donated services of general contractor Krische Contruction, in-kind subcontractors’ services and material donations, and other community support, including regular donations from the Faith Lutheran Community Church endowment fund, assistance from design nonprofit Radian Placematters, $150,000 of Worthy Cause Tax Funds from Boulder County, permit and fee reductions from the City of Longmont, and assistance with the building frame up and build dates from Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley.
The groundbreaking ceremony is May 31 at 5 p.m. at 1500 9th Ave. in Longmont.
Almost three years ago, Carol Matheis-Kraft first had the idea and brought it to church leadership. A retired nurse, she had served on the board of the OUR Center nonprofit and knew the great need for affordable housing. I talked to her earlier this year about how the project came to be.
“At the OUR Center, we found that the biggest stumbling block to self-sufficiency was finding housing people could afford,” Matheis-Kraft said. “We could help people find jobs, but there was no where they could live.”
“We just had to stop talking about it and do something.” After that challenge and brainstorming session from the board where she served, she made a connection with decisions her church was considering about land adjacent to the church building. The church had owned land with an older home on in for 50 years, and had used it or rented it in the past but now was considering tearing down the building. Instead they decided to move their church parking lot and go through the rezoning process with the City of Longmont, and they were able to donate a little less than a quarter of an acre to the Inn Between. In 2016, the congregation voted to pursue donating the land to Inn Between, and in January 2018, the land transferred officially.
The church’s requirement on donating the land was that it be permanently affordable to people who make 40 percent [According to AP Style, “40” is a number and “percent” is a word spelled out] of the area median income or less, Matheis-Kraft said. This language was put in a clause in the document that transferred the deed, so that if the requirement is not met, the land reverts back to the church.
The project is now Inn Between’s, and the church’s role is now to “be a good neighbor,” Matheis-Kraft said. “We are still involved, but it’s not our project.”
Some advice she gave for other churches who are looking at doing something similar are that they need a dedicated team of people to be a driving force, committed for at least three or four years to get through all the phases needed to transfer land to a nonprofit to build affordable housing. She said a group needs volunteers who can fill roles with experience or interest in detailed planning and rezoning steps, in engineering, and in the financial side of the transaction, someone who is trusted in the organization.
“And it could be any landowner who has a big enough piece of land that they would be willing to sell,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a church.”
Matheis-Kraft said she hopes that this example from the United Church of Christ Longmont can serve as a model for other organizations who want to increase affordable housing. “It’s probably a drop in the bucket for what we need, but it’s more than we had before,” she said. “You need multiple options for affordable housing to work.”
The United Church of Christ Longmont and Matheis-Kraft are excellent resources for how this approach to creating affordable housing worked. Are there any options for churches or other organizations in the Lyons community to do something similar, but tailored to the needs of our community? What do you think?
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.
There are currently 26 permanently affordable rental homes in the Town of Lyons (already in town 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, all operated by the Boulder County Housing Authority. The only post-flood affordable housing currently being built is at 2nd Avenue and Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of 6 homes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. To volunteer or donate, see www.stvrainhabitat.org.
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.