Published in the August 17, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder. A shorter version of this content was published in the September 13, 2017, edition of the Redstone Review.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Top 3 things you can do this fall to support affordable housing
by Amy Reinholds
Like many of us who lived in Lyons during September 2013, I was encouraged by neighbors helping neighbors in the immediate days and weeks of the flood disaster. Then I was extremely discouraged in March 2015, when a proposal to set aside five to seven acres of Bohn Park for subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 units) was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election.
The Town of Lyons lost a total of about 76-94 flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including one buy out of a mobile home park) and to the changed use of a second mobile home park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use). I was a member of the Housing Recovery Task Force, a group of Lyons community members who volunteered their time from December 2013 to February 2015 to look for affordable housing options. After the vote failed that March, I encouraged some opponents of the first proposal and others interested in “other options” to volunteer their time on another group, and the Board of Trustees appointed the Lyons Special Housing Committee, which existed from April 2015-April 2016. I was appointed to the Lyons Human Services & Aging Commission, another volunteer commission, which continues to identify overall gaps in services for all segments of our population in the 80540 area.
Now, almost 4 years after the flood, newcomers to town sometimes ask how they can help with affordable housing. Members of the community often ask me the status of some past affordable housing efforts the Town of Lyons volunteer commissions, employees, and elected officials were pursuing. Do you want to help?
Here are three ways you can be part of the solution:
- Welcome affordable rentals in your neighborhood.
- Support Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley.
- Rent to local employees and people who lost their homes in the flood instead of to short-term tourists.
1. Welcome affordable rentals in your neighborhood.
This spring, the Town of Lyons purchased land on the eastern corridor to use a piece of it as a permanent home for the town’s flood-destroyed public works building and to sell remaining available parcels to buyers who want to pursue uses described in the recent Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan. At the end of this week, a request for proposals (RFP) for prospective buyers is expected to be ready. The land has been considered as a possible area for affordable housing, and if light-industrial businesses move from central areas of town to this eastern corridor area, land in central parts of town could open up for affordable housing.
On the northeast part of 4651 Ute Hwy, 2.15 acres will be the permanent home of the Lyons public works building. The remaining 4.3 acres on the north side of the road at 4651 Ute Hwy and the 3.28 acres on the south side of the road at 4652 Ute Hwy will be available for sale.
Trustee Barney Dreistadt told the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) on August 14 that the town does not want to lose $4 million that is earmarked for housing in Lyons by the Boulder County Collaborative, a group determining how federal funds are distributed locally. But that means that a plan must be in place by end of September of this year that describes how the $4 million can be spent in Lyons, and the plan cannot change.
Trustees support “land swaps” of light-industrial businesses moving to the Ute Hwy land, and opening up land in town for affordable housing. What can you do? If a light-industrial business in your neighborhood is interested in moving out east, and affordable housing is proposed in its place, be supportive. Welcome a new small apartment building like Walt Self senior housing by the post office that provides a rental option for friends and neighbors on fixed incomes, or working families who are part of the fabric of our community but can’t keep up with the skyrocketing rents in our town.
Nothing has been proposed yet, but if another affordable rental building is proposed in my neighborhood, I plan to say “Yes, in my back yard” to help my community.
And do you know a business that wants to swap a light-industrial parcel in town to move out east? Let light-industrial businesses know about this opportunity. Do you know an affordable housing organization that would be a good builder of a small group of apartments? Contact Lyons Town Hall, and let me know, too!
2. Support Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley.
Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley never gave up on the Town of Lyons, even after the proposal for affordable housing in Bohn Park was rejected by a majority of Town of Lyons voters, and after a long journey to purchase even a small parcel in Town of Lyons. You can support a permanently affordable home-ownership model for 6 households in Lyons by supporting the non-profit organization with your time and money. And you can be supportive for new homeowners by welcoming them to the neighborhood and volunteering on construction of their homes later this year.
Planning for a permanently affordable home-ownership model with 3 duplexes, in November 2016, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley purchased six residential lots from Craig Ferguson of Planet Bluegrass and his LLC. The lots are on Park Street, east of 2nd Ave, south of the former Valley Bank building (which remains on a separate commercial lot). At the end of July, the construction plan for public improvements that Habitat for Humanity must complete was approved by the Town of Lyons engineering staff. The next steps for Habitat for Humanity include selecting a contractor to do the public improvement infrastructure work. The infrastructure work is expected to take about 3 to 4 months.
Habitat for Humanity also needs building permits, which have been previously committed by the Lyons Board of Trustees to cost no more than $15,000 per home (after an agreement to waive water and sewer connection fees that the town has control of). Some of the work required for the building permits was already completed as part of the construction plan for public improvements. After Habitat for Humanity has the building permits for the six homes, the foundations can be poured for all three duplexes. The foundation work can overlap with the public improvement work if needed, according to Executive Director David Emerson. Volunteers to work on construction of homes probably are not needed until later this fall, after at least the foundation for the first duplex is completed.
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit that acts as a builder and a lender of no-interest loans for homeowners. For income level requirements in Lyons, preference is for applicants at 60% of area median income or below, but households that earn as much as 80% of the area median income can also be included.
Two rounds of applications for home ownership have been completed, and a total of three applications are moving forward so far. Habitat for Humanity, future homeowners, and volunteers will work on the first three homes first, and a third round to select applicants for the final two homes will be open in January, after the construction is underway. That way applicants won’t have a long wait between selection and home completion. It also gives applicants more time to prepare applications and related requirements for mortgages, such as reducing debt-to-income ratios and getting issues corrected on credit reports. The first preference category of 80540 residents displaced from their homes as a result of the 2013 flood still has priority in the third round.
You can read more about this project in my previous column at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/next-steps-for-habitat-homes-at-2nd-and-park/. You can find out more about donating and volunteering at www.stvrainhabitat.org.
3. Rent to local employees and people who lost their homes in the flood instead of to short-term tourists.
Does gentrification make you uneasy or irritated? Want to keep the “funky” artists and musicians in Lyons? If you are a homeowner in Lyons, you have the power to fight gentrification by how you decide to rent your available spaces.
If you own your home in the town limits of Lyons, you can help provide more lower-cost rentals in town by complying with the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance, which 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 ADU 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.
Even if you don’t have a complete apartment, but you have some extra space, consider renting to a housemate who works at a local business.
Right now, in town limits, short-term vacation rentals are not permitted by right on residential (R-1 and R-2) zoned land (neighborhoods where most of us live). It’s true that a new, proposed short-term vacation rental ordinance that the PCDC and town planning staff are working on would also allow some short-term vacation rental use by right in residential R-1 zones in the Town of Lyons. To give residential property owners a break, the PCDC looked into simplifying town policy to allow renting rooms or suites in a house in a residential zone where the owner lives, to only one party at a time, with limited number of people in that party.
Not all homeowners who have a spare bedroom and bathroom want to have a roommate year round, but they might want to occasionally rent out that space to vacationers. That doesn’t concern me as much as someone who has an entire space, suite, or apartment, who would otherwise rent it monthly to someone who works in town but suddenly sees a way to make more money renting the space to tourists. A study published last month titled The Sharing Economy and Housing Affordability: Evidence from Airbnb found that a 10% increase in Airbnb listings in a zip code leads to a 0.39% increase in rents and a 0.64% increase in house prices. See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3006832.
If you care about affordable housing for renters in Lyons, don’t miss the August 28 public hearing before the PCDC about the short-term vacation rental policy for residential zone properties in the Town of Lyons. You can read the column I wrote last week at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/planning-commission-holds-public-hearing-about-vacation-rentals-aug-28/
In addition to the choices that individual homeowners make, real estate agents and property managers can help by linking new Lyons homeowners with tenants who really need a place to live so they can continue to serve you coffee, cocktails, or tacos in local businesses or teach your kids music lessons. We need more heroes in Lyons to take these actions, and I know our wonderful community is filled with champions who are capable of this work.
This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing. 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.