COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
The year in review: affordable housing
by Amy Reinholds
2018 started with an orientation for interested applicants for Habitat for Humanity and foundations poured for two of the duplex foundations at 112 Park Street. The year also began with the Lyons Board of Trustees authorizing a purchase and sale agreement that gave the Town of Lyons an option to buy Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8 with the intention of working with public and private sectors to replace some of the housing lost in the 2013 flood.
Now the year is ending with homeowners for all six Habitat for Humanity homes selected. Generous volunteers have donated funds to Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley and invested time constructing the homes alongside future homeowners, who will be purchasing their homes on Park Street later in 2019 after the three duplex buildings are finished. And Summit Housing Group is now under contract with Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park, Inc., to purchase not only Tract A of the Lyons Valley Park subdivision with the intention to build 29 homes in duplex and triplex buildings, but also 11 homes on single family home lots already platted. All proposed 40 homes would be affordable rentals. Summit is submitting applications for funding for both the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) program and $4 million in federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds, and expects to find out about funding in February of the new year.
Both the Habitat for Humanity for-purchase homes, and the proposed rentals from Summit Housing Group are for permanently affordable housing, which means homes that are lower than market rate, set at costs that are set to be affordable for specific income levels. Also, both of these affordable housing options are set aside for people who were displaced as a result of the flood disaster of September 2013.
For the Habitat for Humanity homes, mortgages are about $150,000 (depending on some custom options). Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley explained that 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. Homeowners income is at 60 percent of the area median income or lower.
For the rental homes that Summit Housing Group is proposing, the income levels of renters would be 60 percent of the area median income or less. Past discussions from Summit representatives have described income levels in the 40 percent of the area median income, about $36,000 for a single person, or more for a larger household size and up to a five-person household with a $70,000 annual income for 60 percent of the area median income. The area median income changes every year. You can download 2018 Colorado County Income and Rent Tables at www.leaflyons.org/resources.html. Examples of rents that Summit representatives have given at past meetings for two-bedroom apartments are $906 a month for a 40 percent AMI household, and $1,200 a month for a 60 percent AMI household, depending on family size. The property management site for Summit buildings, www.leasehighland.com, shows what the applications are like for other rentals built by Summit in six states, including homes in Longmont.
In the previous two years, the Lyons Board of Trustees has been trying to find land for affordable housing, to not lose $4 million in federal funds set aside for Lyons. Other federal funds were lost in 2015 when 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 units) was rejected in a town vote: 498 Lyons voters supported it, and 614 Lyons voters opposed it. Lyons lost about 76-94 flood-destroyed homes, including Town of Lyons water taps/customer accounts and 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 and lodging venue (rezoned for commercial use).
So in reviewing 2018, I’m pleased to say that strides for affordable housing were made, although more work is still ahead. The Habitat for Humanity homes are getting closer to completion each day that volunteers work, and the future homeowners are getting closer to their purchase dates. The proposal from Summit Housing group could give the Lyons community a choice for rental homes that won’t go up with the rental market, although the financing and purchase of the land won’t be finalized until a few months into 2019.
Earlier in the year, some other parcels were pursued to build affordable rental homes, but none got as far along in the process as Summit’s proposal for Lyons Valley Park. A proposal from the Greens group, which included innovative food farming and Thistle Community Housing rental homes on town owned land east of Hwy 66 and U.S. 36, did not get through the planning stages in time for the $4 million in federal disaster funds for housing to be used. However, I don’t know if that partnership will pursue purchasing land and building in the future, with other funding. And nothing came of discussions by the Town of Lyons or affordable housing developers to purchase 19617 N. St. Vrain Drive, next to the Baseline-Mocon industrial parcel and near the Eagle Canyon subdivision.
Here’s a summary of some of the other changes in the past year related to affordable housing:
Inspired by passages in the Book of Micah about overcoming injustice and defending the rights of the poor, the United Church of Christ Longmont donated about a quarter of an acre to the Inn Between nonprofit, which is building six supportive rental homes for people on very low fixed incomes. The project broke ground in 2018. Could this model work in the Lyons community if local churches have land available? See Church donates land for affordable apartments in Longmont.
This year also saw a non-profit in Larimer County take a new approach to homesharing. In the first six months of its new HomeShare program, the Larimer County nonprofit Neighbor to Neighbor has matched five pairs of homeowners aged 55 and older (called “HomeProviders”) and renters (called “HomeSeekers”) who are looking for an affordable housemate situation.
The HomeShare program grew out of a discussion about the need for low-cost rentals in Larimer County, and the preferences for baby boomers and older homeowners to age in place. It is based on the simple idea of two or more people sharing a home for mutual benefit. A person offers a private bedroom and shared common space in exchange for low-cost rent, help around the home, or a combination of the two. Neighbor to Neighbor facilitates the HomeShare program by providing a housing counselor to help match homeowners and tenants and to help create a lease and living agreement for both parties. The average monthly rent is about $600. Some monthly rents are as low as $300 and some as high as $750, and some include discounts for housemates who agree to completing regular tasks and chores such as walking dogs or preparing meals.
If we in Boulder County could find a non-profit to administer a similar program, we could have ways to help both older people concerned about living alone, and people of all ages who need lower-cost rents.
In 2018, I didn’t see evidence that renters who struggle to find a place to live in the Town of Lyons that they can afford have it any easier than before. However, I am grateful that in the past year the Town of Lyons began enforcing the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance, which prohibits homeowners who have mother-in-law apartments or carriage houses on their single family home residential lots from renting short-term vacation rentals on sites like AirBnb. The break in about $20,000-$40,000 in construction costs that homeowners receive because ADUs can share utility connection fees with the main house was intended to increase the supply of smaller rentals in the town of Lyons for people who work here. Rents are still market rate, but expected to be lower cost. So I’m glad to see our town enforce this ordinance. I like seeing employees of local businesses living in our residential neighborhoods as renters who are part of our community. It is important to note that in the past year, the town ordinances also changed so that short-term vacation rentals are now allowed for the first time, but only as guests in the homes where homeowners live (such as renting out a room or a suite within your house), if the homeowner gets a short-term vacation rental license. You can get more information at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units and www.townoflyons.com/592/Short-Term-Rentals.
I don’t support changing the current ADU ordinance to allow homeowners to bring in tiny homes on wheels (registered as RVs) as ADUs. I don’t see evidence that adding tiny homes on wheels as ADUs would help homeowners save money, and therefore encourage more ADUs as rentals in town for people who are seeking affordable places to live. Currently, a homeowner can build a small building on site or can bring in a modular home constructed off-site for an ADU, as long as it fits in the size requirements (dependent on size of the main house, but no larger than 800 square feet). Modular homes, which arrive to the site in pieces and are constructed on residential lots, meet the International Residential Code (IRC) requirements that building inspection companies use. The cost of purchasing and bringing in a tiny homes on wheels RV to a backyard of an existing house, securing it, and connecting it to town utilities, has not been shown to cost less than the other ways of currently building ADUs. A public hearing on allowing the tiny homes on wheels RVs as ADUs is expected to be held on Jan. 7, 2019. Board of Trustees meetings are held at 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall. You can see everything I have written about ADUs here: lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/tag/adus.
Finally, I’m glad that there are several resources for tenants and landlords available in our community. The Lyons Library District hosted a community conversation at the library in September, where members of the community, including property managers, renters, and homeowners shared information and got resources from the town and community. Attendees expressed interest in more community conversations on the topic of renting in Lyons, which I hope continue in 2019. In the meantime, here are some useful community resources:
The Landlord/Tenant information from City of Longmont (includes general and State of Colorado info, although some is specific to City of Longmont) at www.longmontcolorado.gov/departments/departments-a-d/community-and-neighborhood-resources/landlord-tenant.
Here’s wishing everyone enjoyable end-of-the year holidays with family and friends. We’ve got a lot to look forward to in 2019, including building opportunities for everyone in our talented and caring community to thrive and find an affordable and safe place to live. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!