Published in the Sept 13, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Gratitude, grit, hope, and opportunities

by Amy Reinholds

At Monday’s five-year commemoration of the flood event with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, several speakers honored the people of the Lyons community for resilience and finding opportunity despite the tragedy we experienced.

Hailey Odell, read a poem, “What If” that she wrote when she was in elementary school trying to make sense of the flood in September 2013. Her poem was part of a book “Through Our Eyes: Lyons elementary School Children Remember the September 2013 Flood.”

Odell’s poem included the lines “…what if this is more than just a disaster, what if this the greatest opportunity of my life, the opportunity to link arms with someone else, someone you never thought of before…”

Governor Hickenlooper recognized Lyons for “your sense of resilience and indomitable will” and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said “your vision to find opportunity in tragedy” to build back stronger and better “speak to the best of Colorado.”5year-flood-anniversary-hickenlooper

Hickenlooper talked about the “most destructive flood in the history of the state” with $4 billion in damages, 1,800 homes damaged, and 18,000 people displaced during the flood. He said that a former governor told him right after the flood, “For people who lost so much, you can’t build back the way it was before, you’ve got to build it better.” He expressed that we are doing that in Lyons. “Everything about this community is inspiring.”

Lyons Mayor Connie Sullivan referenced the “Lyons: We got grit” bumper stickers and listed many ways that grit was represented, including “every elected official since the flood not giving up on replacing affordable housing that was lost in the flood.”

At the event Monday morning, Sept. 10, in Bohn Park, a total of nine speakers offered their memories and thanked all those who helped in Lyons recovery over the past five years. A tree was planted in Bohn Park in honor of Gerry Boland, who died in the flood.

Mindy Tallent, who owns the Stone Cup cafe with her husband, Sam Tallent, illustrated the continuing need for affordable housing with her words.

“All of our lives have changed,” she said. “The lack of affordable housing has changed the feel of this town.”

Tallent highlighted challenges as a business trying to find employees. As the housing market continues to rise, and there are fewer homes than there were before the flood, she said, “The demographic changes have made it nearly impossible to work at local businesses and afford to live here.”

“Life is different in Lyons,” Tallent said. “Many are still displaced and unable to return home.”

Yet she ended, “We are hopeful and grateful.”

By the time this column is published, the community will be coming together to commemorate the impromptu barbecue and picnic five years ago outside the Stone Cup cafe. After almost two days of immediate work as the community helped neighbors escape from the flood waters, and many neighbors temporarily moved in with friends up the hill or across town, the town utilities were shut off, and we knew we were going to have to leave town in the aftermath of the flood. People brought meat from freezers to grill outside our local neighborhood cafe on Sept. 13, 2013. Sam and Mindy Tallent hosted people bringing whatever food they had. There was plenty to share. Five years to the day, the community is holding a Flood Reflection and Community Picnic Sept. 13, 2018 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the newly rebuilt Bohn Park. Town officials will give updates on recovery progress, and all are invited to commemorate and share stories of the five-year journey.

If we follow the poem that Hailey Odell wrote as an elementary school student, we can continue our recovery with the greatest opportunity of our lives. We can link arms with people we might not have thought of before and create affordable housing to replace the flood-destroyed homes that were lost.

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.

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.

Some other subsidized affordable rentals have been proposed in the past year, including on land that Summit Housing Group wants to purchase in the Lyons Valley Park subdivision. But 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 six residential lots the non-profit purchased in late 2016 from Craig Ferguson of Planet Bluegrass and his LLC, south of the former Valley Bank building (which remains on a separate commercial lot). The Lyons Board of Trustees voted in 2015 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 for the Park Street homes, keeping mortgages down to about $150,000 for homeowners. Applicants to purchase all six of the homes were selected by April of this year. To volunteer or to donate to Habitat for Humanity construction costs in Lyons, go to www.stvrainhabitat.org.

I’ve collaborated with some people I didn’t know before the flood, and people I never knew I would work with, and our community is now building six homes out of the 76-94 that were lost. The Town of Lyons does have the chance to see maybe 30 or 40 more new affordable homes, if we are willing to link arms and take an opportunity. I’m willing to be both hopeful and grateful like Mindy Tallent.

Amy Reinholds served on the Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force from December 2013 through its end in February 2015. She is currently a member of the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission and served as a liaison to the Special Housing Committee during its existence from April 2015-April 2016. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on her blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact her directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.