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Published in the Sept 6, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Next week’s events remember where we’ve been and look to a possible future

by Amy Reinholds

Almost five years have passed since the waters of the North and South St. Vrain Rivers revealed their immense and destructive powers in unexpected ways, changing the Town of Lyons forever.

Events next week remember where we’ve been and what we have come through. On Monday, Sept. 10, from 10-11:30 a.m., Governor John Hickenlooper and state and local officials commemorate the five-year anniversary of the flood in Bohn Park. On Thursday, Sept. 13, the Town of Lyons encourages the Lyons community to come together in Bohn Park for a five-year Flood Reflection and Community Picnic from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Town officials will give updates on recovery progress, and all are invited to commemorate and share stories of the five-year journey.

In between those two commemoration events, a Tuesday, Sept. 11, community meeting from Summit Housing Group discusses possible new affordable housing – part of our town’s flood recovery that is not yet accomplished but could be in our future. Summit is planning to purchase land in Lyons Valley Park to build affordable rental homes and invites all in the community to learn more about proposals from 6-8 p.m. at Lyons Middle/Senior High School Cafetorium.

Then, some of us who volunteered on the Housing Recovery Task Force in 2013-2015 are rounding out the week of the five-year flood anniversary by volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity build site on Friday, Sept. 14. This is a way to give back, helping construct the small amount of new affordable housing that is a reality in Lyons: 6 homes in three duplexes at 112 Park Street. If you want to gather a group to volunteer on future dates, or to donate to the construction costs in Lyons, go to www.stvrainhabitat.org.

These events sum up the past five years with thoughts about what we’ve come through, possibilities for the future, and hard work in the here and now.

Most of the physical scars are gone now. Government funds have reconstructed parks and roads. Homeowners have rebuilt homes, sold them to other owners, or sold them as part of the federal buyout program. Renters and mobile home owners have moved several times since then, some finding new opportunities in other towns and other states, and some managing to rent in Lyons in a rising market while their children attend school here and they work or run businesses here. One mobile home park has become a wedding venue, where people spend money on celebrating new beginnings, maybe unaware of the people who once lived there or what the land looked like in the aftermath of the flood. Another mobile home park was part of the federal buyout program, and is gradually transforming to be part of the new green space surrounding a trail to our beautiful, popular town parks.

 THE JOURNEY STARTS WITH 76-94 LOST HOMES

The Town of Lyons has weathered many challenges in the rebuilding and recovery process.

Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes. 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 (including 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.

Affordable housing hit a roadblock in the flood recovery journey in March 2015. 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 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498.

SIX HABITAT FOR HUMANITY HOMES UNDER CONSTRUCTION

But Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley did not give up on the Town of Lyons and its need for housing that people displaced by the flood can afford. So far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street. Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on land the non-profit purchased from Craig Ferguson and his Planet Bluegrass partners at the end of 2016.

Applicants to purchase all six of the homes were selected by April of this year. Habitat for Humanity is hoping that many of the homeowners will be celebrating the new year in completed homes, but more volunteer labor and donations are needed. 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.

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. All Habitat for Humanity homeowners complete about 250 volunteer hours per adult in each household, which includes attending financial and home-ownership classes, as well as working on construction of their own and their neighbors’ homes.

POSSIBLE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOMES

Some subsidized affordable rental homes have been proposed in the past year, but no land has changed hands yet. Summit Housing Group is negotiating with Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park Inc. to purchase Lyons Valley Park subdivision Tract A of Filing 8 for building 29 affordable rental homes in multifamily buildings like duplexes and triplexes – and possibly an additional 11 single family home lots. Summit is interested in building affordable single family homes on those 11 lots, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen told the Lyons Board of Trustees in August. We’ll all find out more at Summit’s community meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Lyons Middle/Senior High School.

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 six states, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, all which include portions affordable to people who make 60 percent of the area median income or less. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (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.

This spring, Summit determined that the Lyons Valley Park subdivision agreement allows for multifamily density on 3.82 acres of Tract A of Filing 8, allowing about 27-29 homes (whether built by Summit or any future property owner), but not as many as the 43 that Summit had originally proposed. Lyons Valley Village, a co-housing community built in the early 2000s, is an example of multifamily density in the Lyons Valley Park subdivision.

At a May community meeting, input from several homeowners in the Lyons Valley Park neighborhood encouraged Sam Long, Summit senior project manager, to consider building only 29 homes instead of the 43 homes that Summit was originally planning for Tract A of Lyons Valley Park. But at the same meeting, the president of the Lyons Valley Park Homeowners Association said his attorney did not agree that any multifamily housing was allowed in the subdivision agreement and announced that the Homeowners Association was prepared to go to court.

Summit typically provides homes with rents available in four levels based on percentages of area median income (AMI), Summit president Rusty Snow explained at a Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission meeting in July. The rents are set for households with income at 30 percent or lower AMI, 40-31 percent AMI, 50-41 percent AMI, and 60-51 percent AMI. Snow gave examples of the broad range of incomes, from a one-person household with a $23,000 annual income up to a five-person household with a $70,000 annual income. Each of the four income levels have different rents, also based on family size. Examples of rents for two-bedroom apartments are $661 a month for a 30 percent AMI household, and $1,200 a month for a 60 percent AMI household.

Snow said that if Summit could acquire more land to build additional homes elsewhere in Lyons, financing could allow for more rents at the lower-income categories. He also confirmed that a preference policy like Habitat for Humanity uses would be in place for Summit rentals proposed for Lyons. People who were living in the 80540 area during the 2013 flood and were displaced from their homes have first priority.

Another option for possible affordable rentals that has been discussed in the past year is part of a proposal from the Greens partnership to purchase town-owned land on Hwy 66, east of Hwy 36 (adjacent to the new town public works building that is under construction). The proposal from the Greens partnership includes an innovative food agriculture business, a commercial kitchen, other business space, and affordable rental homes from Thistle Community Housing. The Greens partners include Donna Merten of Boulder-based real estate development firm Merten Development and Paul Tamburello, who has developed and consulted on several well-known projects around the Highland neighborhood of Denver and serves on the board of directors of GrowHaus, a nonprofit indoor farm and educational center in Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood. The Lyons Board of Trustees plans another meeting with the Greens partnership to follow up this fall.

What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons? Decisions and actions in the next year could affect the rest of our journey. Since April 2015 I’ve been writing this weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the flood. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. To help shape the future of Lyons, please get involved, share your story, and attend meetings.

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