Published in the May 16, 2018, edition of the Redstone Review.
Summit Housing Group hears from Lyons Valley Park homeowners and the Lyons community
COMMENTARY: AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN LYONS
By Amy Reinholds
Affordable Housing Columnist
LYONS – When I walked to the Summit Housing Group question and answer session on May 8 about proposed affordable rental homes in Lyons Valley Park, Filing 8, Tract A, I passed another multifamily housing community in Lyons Valley Park on the sidewalk. I was greeted by a resident meeting friends for “Taco Tuesday” in the community house shared kitchen and dining room. I saw parents and kids riding bikes while the sun was still shining on a warm spring early evening. The neighborhood looked like a suburban neighborhood that could be found many places in Colorado or the U.S, and I saw families and single people of all ages participating in their daily lives, enjoying time together.
Sam Long, senior project manager for Summit Housing Group, spoke to about 50 people in the cafeteria of Lyons Middle and High School about a proposal for 43 rental homes affordable to people who make about 60 percent of the area median income (or possibly less, depending on funding sources and investments like Low Income Housing Tax Credits). “Our mission is to provide the most affordable units,” Long said. (In Boulder County, the area median income is $76,100 for a single person, $86,900 for a two-person household, $97,800 for a three-person household, and 108,600 for a four-person household, and 60 percent of the area median income is $45,660 for a single person, $52,140 for a two-person household, $58,680 for a three-person household, and $65,160 for a 4-person household.) Long said the preference policy for flood-displaced residents will apply.
Summit originally thought that the subdivision agreement for Filing 8, Tract A that allowed multifamily housing, a density of 7.7 units per acre would allow 43 homes. However, the company later determined that the multifamily density only applies to 3.82 acres, which allows only about 27-29 homes by right on the parcel, Long said. So, to keep with its original proposal for 43 homes, Summit will go through a rezoning process. The zoning process starts with an application before the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC). Public hearings are held with both the PCDC and the Trustees.
“We have attorneys engaged at this time,” said Lyons Valley Park homeowners association president Jim Crowder, who said his attorneys did not agree that multifamily housing was allowed in the subdivision agreement. “We’re prepared to go to court.”
Yet other Lyons Valley Park homeowners were not against all affordable rentals. One man said “Some people want a lot of affordable housing, and some people don’t want any, but a lot of us are in the middle.”
“There are a lot of people [here in Lyons Valley Park] who want affordable housing for everyone, but we just don’t want that much,” another homeowner said. “Help us do that smaller amount.”
“That’s an option,” Long said. “I’m listening to you, but we’ve also made a commitment to the Town of Lyons,” he said, referring to the request for proposals that Summit Housing Group applied for and was selected by the Board of Trustees in March. “We will take it through the process, but if you tell the Board of Trustees that you want 29 units, and that is what the town wants, we’ll build 29 units.”
The geotechnical engineering assessment was expected to be completed in two weeks, Long said, which will answer questions about the expense of building. “There are a lot of issues with the site, which could be mitigated,” he said.
Summit, based in Missoula, Mt., is a development company that specializes in low-income tax credit and mixed-use developments. It develops and manages rental properties in 6 states, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, all which include portions affordable to people who make 60% of the area median incomes or less. The latest homes in Colorado are at 1205 Pace St. in Longmont.
“The Town of Lyons needs affordable housing,” Long said. “Even if you make $70,000 a year, you can’t afford to buy a home in Lyons. I’m sure you all know someone, maybe a parent or a child, who can’t afford to live in Lyons.”
Emily Dusel, director of the Lyons Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF), who also is a Lyons Valley Park homeowner, spoke to a previous comment that tenants would come from outside Lyons. “To think that we don’t have a problem in our own community is completely incorrect,” she said, explaining that 15 percent of the families who go to school in Lyons qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. She said she sees clients at the LEAF food pantry that are overburdened with rent costs. “We are feeding 40 families because they have to choose between feeding their families and paying rent.”
In the past two years, the Lyons Board of Trustees has been trying to find land for affordable housing, to not lose $4 million in federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds set aside for Lyons housing. 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. However, with $4 million still reserved for Lyons in the years that followed, the trustees have pursued smaller options for housing.
On Jan. 29, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase and sale agreement with current owner Keith Bell, for an option to buy Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8. A request for proposals (RFP) for affordable housing developers interested in partnering with the town for that Lyons Valley Park Tract A parcel went out in February. A selection committee (including representatives from the Lyons Valley Park homeowners association and the Lyons PCDC) brought forward two finalists who presented to the Lyons Board of Trustees, and Summit Housing Group was selected by the trustees in March. The purchase and sale agreement with Keith Bell was then assigned to Summit Housing Group.
As I walked home after the meeting, I thought about the people I saw on my way to the meeting. They were busy that evening, and they didn’t attend. I wondered if anything would be different if they heard first hand what was said about multifamily housing, affordability in our town, concerns about traffic, the Lyons Valley Park homeowners association hiring an attorney, and the clients of the LEAF food pantry who don’t have enough income to pay both rent and buy groceries without assistance. I also wondered if in a few years I would be walking through this neighborhood and see new residents of affordable rental homes who were biking with their children or gathering at their community room for an event.
It wouldn’t be so surprising if that’s in our future. There were many times in the past three years when I tried to imagine one day working at a Habitat for Humanity volunteer build day in Lyons, even when it looked like people were going to give up – and that project is now real at 112 Park Street, after months and years of drama on social media and many long meetings on cold Monday nights. In 2003, I remember when the land next to the post office was an empty lot, and for a while a community garden, where I attended a community celebration with acoustic musicians playing between the vegetable beds – and today it’s the affordable rental homes of some of our community’s elders. In 2013, I remember the waters of the St. Vrain covering the roads, the smell of the mud, and the crazy torn landscape and debris left behind – and now most of those physical scars are covered over with new vegetation, fixed roads, and cleaned and smoothed banks.
This column is a monthly commentary (opinion column) in the Redstone Review about affordable housing after the 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints, contact me directly at areinholds @ hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, see previous columns at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.