Published in the November 2, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?)
How to minimize gentrification and avoid losing lower income homeowners
by Amy Reinholds
At the end of September, I went to a conference in Denver called Rail-Volution: Building Livable Communities with Transit. The conference discussed how land use, transportation, and development (including housing) can transform communities into livable places that are healthy, economically vibrant, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable.
I attended a panel discussion titled “Displacement, Gentrification, and Transit-Oriented Development – A Done Deal?” When there are good things going on in metro areas like strong job markets and good transit systems to get to jobs, often neighborhoods become too expensive for families who lived there before the boom. I heard stories about trying to minimize negative affects of gentrification from panelists from Portland, Ore., Charlotte, N.C., and Denver. The example that stood out to me was from Denver, an idea that might inspire us here in Lyons.
Renee Martinez-Stone, Initiative Director for the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative, said that the West Denver neighborhoods do have a little more time to address issues of older community members being pushed out by high housing costs because the volume of home sales isn’t increasing as much as other areas if Denver, even as the housing prices go up. The collaborative is focusing on preserving and stabilizing single family home ownership, homeowner education, connection of neighborhoods to available services, and designing, financing, and building accessory dwelling units (ADUs) for low-income homeowners.
The West Denver Renaissance Collaborative is an initiative of the Denver Housing Authority, the City and County of Denver, and local organizations and nonprofits. It includes a 6,400-acre area of Athmar Park, Barnum, Barnum West, La Alma/Lincoln Park, Sun Valley, Valverde, Villa Park, West Colfax, and Westwood neighborhoods. The purpose of the collaborative is to foster equitable revitalization in West Denver, advance the livelihood of existing residents, leverage local partners and community leaders, and help neighborhoods to preserve and amplify their existing multicultural character.
Martinez-Stone, a fifth-generation Colorado native, and an urban planner with Perspective3, said “ADUs are a product of privilege in Denver.” Seniors on fixed incomes, and people who don’t have a lot of money often don’t have the time or the resources to invest in renovation or construction costs to convert a garage or basement into a revenue-generating apartment that they can rent out to another senior, young professional, or couple. And navigating through the permitting process is also difficult for people who have never built homes before. That means only people with money and time to spare, and maybe also experience in development, will pursue building ADUs. However, ADUs could help these low-income homeowners stay in their homes and the continue to keep the character of their West Denver neighborhood, Martinez-Stone explained.
“The only way to do this is with a team of financing consultants, and counseling resources [throughout the ADU building process],” Martinez-Stone said. “We are looking at ways we can reduce the cost.” She reported that the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver to look at a hybrid prefab construction for ADUs that can be put together on site, a lower-cost construction.
Here in Lyons, we know these ADUs as small carriage houses, mother-in-law apartments, or garage apartments added to single family home residential lots. There is a policy that Lyons shaped in the past few years, and so far there are only three homeowners who had plans approved by the town to build legal ADUs. The Lyons ADU ordinance allows small apartments or carriage houses to share utility connection fees with the main house (saving homeowners $20,000-$40,000 in construction costs). You can read the ordinance at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units. Homeowners of ADU properties must rent for periods of 30 days or longer (for example, at least a month-to-month lease), and cannot use their properties for short-term vacation rentals.
The ideas that the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative is trying to help make it easier for seniors and low-income people to navigate the process to construct ADUs, and maybe even get some additional breaks in the cost, might be a tactic we can try in Lyons. Such an initiative might require partnering with a non-profit to cover costs. I’ll continue following what works in West Denver and other communities, and I plan to bring this example to the Town of Lyons staff and elected Board of Trustees.
The Town of Lyons lost a total of about 70 flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including the 16 homes in the Foothills Mobile Home Park) and to the changed use of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park property, where 32 families used to live, to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use). In March 2015, a proposal for subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 units) on five to seven acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election. At the end of 2016, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley purchased six residential lots in Lyons to build three permanently affordable duplexes, beginning work this fall.
This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @ hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.
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.