Published in the July 11, 2019, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
NIBMYs, YIMBYs, and SHIMBYs
by Amy Reinholds
The term “Not In My Back Yard,” or NIMBY, is thrown around in discussions about affordable housing, whether in Lyons, as our town has been trying to replace housing stock lost in the 2013 flood, or in large cities where real estate and rental prices are soaring.
NIMBY is understood as a dirty word that refers to citizens, usually with political influence or power, who don’t want something they deem as undesirable in their backyards. I think it also implies a hypocrisy that they think it’s OK in someone else’s backyard. What they don’t want in their neighborhoods varies. It could be government-subsidized affordable housing for people with low incomes, or extraction industry facilities owned by large, private corporations.
Organizations calling themselves YIMBY, or “Yes In My Back Yard,” have sprung up in recent years in the name of affordable housing. I started following some of these groups, liking the positive word “Yes” in the name. However, many of the policies and goals focus on increasing density as a solution across neighborhoods in cities, without necessarily requiring limitations for permanent affordability.
YIMBY groups oppose exclusionary zoning, municipal zoning ordinances that exclude certain types of land uses from a county, town, or city. Reading through en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exclusionary_zoning, I agree that our country has some ugly history of how zoning ordinances were used to keep immigrants and people of color out of white, wealthy, and powerful communities. But I don’t think doing away with all residential zoning (or all single-family home zoning) today is the answer for affordable housing and a caring society.
It’s paradoxical to me that many young renters in politically liberal cities, who wouldn’t align with Republicans on other issues, are buying into a trickle-down economic approach to so-called affordable housing. They think that if municipalities remove zoning restrictions and help market-rate developers build more high-density buildings in residential neighborhoods, it will automatically provide more low-cost rentals. Simple supply and demand, right?
But unless limitations are added to these new housing developments, allowing more density or incentives to for-profit developers would only result in lower costs for the first tenant or purchaser, not to the ones that follow. These market-rate actions might help the developers save money, but they won’t help achieve long-lasting affordable housing as the real-estate market continues to rise. We have the same issue with the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance in Lyons. Homeowners who can build apartments in their garage or a separate building (with a generous discount in utility connection costs) aren’t limited in how much they can charge for rent. As rental rates go up, so will the rents for these apartments.
That’s why I want to introduce a new acronym: SHIMBY, or “Subsidized Housing In My Back Yard.” Those of us who live near Bloomfield Place by the Stone Cup cafe, Walter Self Senior Housing by the post office, or Mountain Gate on 2nd Ave, already have tax-payer-subsidized affordable housing in our backyards. All are operated by the Boulder County Housing Authority.
Government or tax-payer-subsidized affordable housing, sometimes referred to as “permanent affordable housing” comes with requirements such as renting to households with specific low monthly incomes, or establishing deed restrictions for future sales prices. For example, any developer that uses the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits program as part of funding new residential buildings must rent to households with incomes of 60 percent of the area median income or less.
As I researched the YIMBY movement and some of its challenges, I noticed that others are taking a similar approach to my SHIMBY suggestion. The term some groups in large cities use is PHIMBY or “Public Housing in My Back Yard.” According to reporting from radio station KQED, this idea focuses on investing in public and municipal-run housing programs. The article at www.kqed.org/news/11731580/forget-yimby-vs-nimby-could-phimbys-solve-the-housing-crisis also brings up concerns that a market-rate YIMBY approach could also speed up gentrification in some neighborhoods and push out long-time, low-income residents.
Sorting through all those acronyms, I choose SHIMBY as a direction to pursue in our quest for affordable housing here in Lyons.
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. The first duplex was completed in April 2019, and more volunteer help is needed to finish the other buldings. 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.