Published in the April 17, 2019 edition of the Redstone Review
Celebrating the first Habitat for Humanity duplex home dedication in Lyons
By Amy Reinholds
COMMENTARY: Affordable Housing in Lyons
LYONS – After four years of writing this column, I’ve learned a lot about affordable housing, planning and land-use processes, and stories about approaches that have worked in other communities. But most of all, I’ve learned that affordable housing takes a long time, and it requires community members, non-profits, town staff, and elected officials who don’t give up.
On April 7, we had a chance to celebrate one of those organizations that persevered in Lyons when Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley held a dedication for the first duplex at 112 Park Street.
Lyons lost about 76 to 94 destroyed homes since the 2013 flood. In March 2015, a proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rental homes and some Habitat for Humanity affordable for-sale homes (a total of 50-70 homes overall) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. But Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley did not give up on the Town of Lyons, continuing the discussion about possible available land in Lyons, and eventually purchasing land to build six homes at 2nd and Park from Craig Ferguson and his Planet Bluegrass partners in the fall of 2016.
For Habitat for Humanity staff, an Americorps team that helped build, and other volunteers and donors, the April 7 dedication was a celebration of the 99th and 100th home built by Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley, an event they had been planning for months. For the community of Lyons, five and a half years after the flood disaster, it was a celebration of the first new affordable housing constructed after years of determination. For two families who purchased the homes, Cassie Walters and Monica English, it was a celebration of a new start after years of uncertain housing situations, gratitude for an affordable mortgage, and a new future for their children. I had the honor of presenting a key to Monica English. Lyons Trustee Mark Browning, a dedicated construction volunteer, presented bibles to the homeowners.
For everyone who attended that event, it was a joyful time to pause and appreciate the milestone of the completed building, to recognize the work of the past 4 years. Looking back at the wide range of emotions experienced about affordable housing in that time, that sunny Sunday in April was a time to breathe a sigh of relief and appreciate everyone’s hard work.
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). 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. Applicants to purchase all six of the Lyons homes were selected by April 2018, and several friends and family members helped donate volunteer hours over the past year to count toward each household’s “sweat equity.” All Habitat for Humanity homeowners complete about 250 volunteer hours of 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, or working at the Habitat ReStore in Longmont.
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. The 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.
This accomplishment in Lyons required a combination of community members, non-profits, town staff, elected officials, and future homeowners who persevered.
We wouldn’t have arrived at this day without a wide range of people who helped with individual steps in the journey that helped make these homes a reality. The Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force formed after the flood by former Lyons Trustee Dan Greenberg with the hope that affordable housing in Lyons was possible, and that group worked earnestly in 2014 and 2015. And then after the failed vote for the Bohn Park proposal in March 2015, a new Lyons Special Housing Committee volunteer Tom Delker suggested that Ferguson subdivide land he was planning to buy from Valley Bank that spring and sell some of it to Habitat for Humanity. Ferguson and his LLC partners invested in the Valley Bank land originally and then completed the PUD and subdivision process before selling the residential lots to Habitat for Humanity. The Lyons Board of Trustees led by Mayor John O’Brien voted in June 2015 to wave utility connection fees that the town has control over for the six future Habitat for Humanity homes. The total of about $173,500 in savings helped Habitat for Humanity meet its permitting and fees budget for the Park Street homes.
When the Board of Trustees approved final rezoning and subdivision for the Habitat homes in July 2016, I noticed not only how tired everyone seemed, but I was impressed by all the thank-yous shared at that meeting. Mayor Connie Sullivan thanked Dave Emerson, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of the St Vrain Valley, and the applicants/property owners Ferguson and his business partner Jerry Moore, for staying at the table with the Town of Lyons for the long rezoning and subdivision process, which started in the fall of 2015. Ferguson thanked his Planet Bluegrass business partners for their support. In addition to his financial investments as a business partner, Moore invested a lot of time in negotiations and documentation preparations. Lyons Housing Recovery Coordinator Cody Humphrey dedicated a bulk of this time to this project during his short appointment with the Town of Lyons. And Rosi Dennett, the town planner who picked up where two other town planners had previously worked on that application, also deserves thanks for all her work during that challenging time.
You can read all my coverage of Habitat for Humanity in Lyons in the four years of archives on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/tag/habitatforhumanity/page/6/.
Thanks to all the volunteers – both from Lyons and communities across the region – who built on weekends or weekdays starting in January 2018. Later this spring and summer the other two duplexes are expected to be finished. To volunteer, no specific experience is needed, and training is on the job for each 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. volunteer shift. On the website at www.stvrainhabitat.org/construction, after clicking FLOOD REBUILD-LYONS, volunteers can review all volunteer days with openings and sign up for one or more of the specific days they are available. To donate online, go to www.coloradogives.org/rebuildlyons.
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. She writes a monthly commentary (opinion column) in the Redstone Review about affordable housing after the 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. For a history, previous columns are available on her blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.