Published in the August 8, 2019, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
A success story from Buena Vista
by Amy Reinholds
The Colorado Municipal League (CML) annual conference earlier in the summer was attended by representatives from the Town of Lyons, including staff and elected officials. One of the affordable housing topics that was listed on the agenda gave insight to how 48 affordable rental homes were built in the Town of Buena Vista, a town of about 2,800.
Wondering how this project came about in a town more remote than Lyons, with about 800 more residents, I reached out to Mark Doering, Buena Vista principal planner. He told me that the Collegiate Commons project added 48 new affordable rental housing homes in two buildings, each three stories. The tenants earn 30-60 percent of the area median income. He said about 100 people live there today, about 40 of them kids.
It was a long road. The timeline from application to Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) started in April 2016, and the final tenants moved in by April 2019. But the idea started much earlier, with some disappointments. Doering said that the town had previously applied for LIHTC funding in 2015, but had feedback that the site wouldn’t work. “So we had to put together a more complicated proposal for the land,” he said.
For everything to align, the project included a land swap of park land with the local school district, a new a baseball field for the school that was funded with help from grants, a narrow approval of that land swap from voters in a 2017 municipal election with low voter turn-out, and multiple votes from school district and town elected officials. Buena Vista doesn’t have its own housing authority but partnered with an affordable housing developer, Urban, Inc.The town still owns the land with a 75-year lease, Doering said, and the developer owns the improvements on the land.
The Collegiate Commons project won the competative, so-called “9 percent” LIHTC in September 2016. There were 43 applications total, and the Buena Vista project was one of about 11 that were awarded the funding.
Just this year the town finished the process of LIHTC loans and financing steps.
In sharing information with other communities, Doering highlights what went well and allowed this project to succeed: political will, the various partnerships, and the adaptability of the project.
The lessons learned from this project that he compiled for the presentation at the CML conference included the importance of local involvement, transparency, and “don’t minimize the impacts to your partners.” Other important lessons included having multiple back-up plans “(B, C, and D)”. Warnings to keep in mind are “Not anyone can do LIHTC” and that the tax credit-required rental process takes time for vetting renters’ applications.
Lyons lost about 76 to 94 destroyed homes in the 2013 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. However, $4 million of federal Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funds were still set aside for affordable housing in Lyons, and the State Housing Board voted in February to approve Summit Housing Group’s application for those funds for building 11 single family homes and 29 homes in multifamily buildings on land the company plans to buy in Lyons Valley Park. Until Summit’s proposal, a few concepts for subsidized affordable rentals were pursued, but nothing got very far in the process.
The only post-flood, deed-restricted, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112, 114, and 116 Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on six residential lots. Two duplexes are now completed and, and more volunteer help is needed to finish the third building. 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. Help is most needed on weekdays. For any questions, contact Rebecca Shannon, Community Engagement Manager, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley, at 303-682-2485.
There are 26 existing 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.
This column is a commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.