The launch of the new Lyons Recorder is an opportunity to examine the reasons I started writing columns in the Lyons Recorder in 2015–and why I want to keep writing about affordable housing.
The first reason is the September 2013 flooding of the North and South St. Vrain rivers. About 215 homes in Lyons were damaged or destroyed, and about 100 of those were not rebuilt after the flood, including 43 mobile homes that were in two mobile home parks. In the years that followed, landowners of those flood-destroyed properties were either part of federal buyout programs, or the land was used for other purposes than housing. (These numbers come from Town of Lyons records and the Manufactured Housing and Flood Recovery in Lyons, Colorado study, commissioned by the Lyons Emergency Assistance Fund in 2015.)
The Foothills Mobile Home Park, at the end of Fourth Street south of Prospect Street, was part of the federal disaster recovery buyout program. The owner was paid a negotiated pre-flood value, and the land is now preserved as park land, including the Rocky Mountain Botanic Garden, which is being built by local volunteers. The owners of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park, across Highway 36 from the entrance to Planet Bluegrass, requested to change zoning to a commercial use, which was approved by the Lyons Board of Trustees. It is now the Riverbend wedding and event venue, with vacation lodging in tiny homes on wheels.
According to the Manufactured Housing and Flood Recovery in Lyons, Colorado report, of the 43 lost mobile homes (described as manufactured housing), “The average income of households living in the two communities was under $30,000, compared to a median of $89,063 for households in Lyons generally. A substantial number of manufactured housing residents were low or very low income.”
At the end of 2013, I joined the Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force, which had a goal to explore options for federal recovery funds to build new housing in town. In the 14 months that followed, this group of volunteers learned about disaster recovery, models of affordable housing, and government agencies and regulations. We identified and evaluated a list of possible housing sites, held regular open meetings, and presented a public open-house workshop. We called on housing experts from the state, the county, the University of Colorado Denver, and the private and nonprofit sectors.
The second reason I write about affordable housing is the misinformation that circulated on local social media groups before a March 2015 special election. The mail ballot proposed using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals, as well as some affordable Habitat for Humanity homes that would be sold. Long before “fake news” became a buzz phrase at the national level, falsehoods about this proposal bounced around our community like a child’s game of telephone. The proposed 50-70 federally subsidized homes would have been affordable for households with incomes at or below 60 percent of the area median income. The Bohn Park site was selected by the Lyons Board of Trustees after reviewing the work of the Housing Recovery Task Force.
The final count was 614 against the proposal and 498 for the proposal. So then, I had a new goal: to present facts about affordable housing and what it means for Lyons. I pledged to write an affordable housing column in every edition of the weekly Lyons Recorder and the monthly Redstone Review until new affordable housing was created in Lyons. I also gathered together people who said they had other ideas that would work better than the proposal for Bohn Park and encouraged them to get to work. A new Lyons Special Housing Committee formed. The original committee didn’t last for long, but it resulted in one of the original members, Tom Delker, encouraging another, Craig Ferguson, to sell some land to Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley.
Despite all the drama on Facebook and in the real-life rumor mill of our small community, Habitat for Humanity was able to purchase land to build three duplex buildings (for a total of six homes for sale). Volunteers in Lyons and around the country helped build the homes, and four families have purchased homes and moved in. More volunteer help is still needed to finish up the third and final duplex building so the selected applicants can close on purchasing their homes and move in.
Even after all six of these homes are finished, Lyons will still be short about 90 homes. But at least some new affordable housing came to Lyons! I could have stopped writing, but the third reason I care about affordable housing is the broader housing crisis in the Denver metro area. Lyons has its own unique challenges after the housing stock lost in the flood, but it’s part of a much bigger issue.