I started writing this column for the new online Lyons Recorder in January 2020, not knowing what the year would bring. But I had been writing about affordable housing since 2015 in the print edition, and I had experience from the Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force that started up at the end of 2013 in the aftermath of the destructive flooding that changed Lyons forever.
Looking back, I collected some lessons learned at the three-year anniversary of the flood in a column in the September 8, 2016, print edition of the Lyons Recorder. Here are a few that are surprisingly relevant today:
– Affordable housing takes a long time, and it’s not easy. But nothing happens at all if no one tries in the first place, or if no one perseveres. In the nearly four years since I wrote this observation, we have finally seen all six Habitat for Humanity homes completed on Park Street and local families purchasing those homes. We have also seen final approval of a plan for 40 affordable rentals in Lyons Valley Park for households at 60 percent of the area median income, and an announcement that the land has been purchased to build those 21 townhomes and 19 single-family homes. Eight new market-rate detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been approved since the flood. Utility connection fees on these ADUs are waived for the property owners to encourage them to offer long-term rentals at the lower end of the market. Thankfully, town leaders passed ordinances that these ADUs must be used for long-term renters and not short-term vacation rentals for tourists. This will provide some help and protection for workers in local businesses who want to rent in the same town where they work. There’s still more work to be done to keep ADU rentals affordable, but this is a good start.
– We can’t rely on Facebook posts for factual information. Like accepting rumors heard on the street, believing Facebook posts as gospel truth causes misinformation and strife. In 2015-2016, Lyons community social media arguments focused on a referendum to build Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and Habitat for Humanity for-sale homes in part of Bohn Park. The referendum failed. Today, local Facebook groups host arguments about safety, caring for others, personal freedom, and the economy at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. To actually get things done in 2016, we had to turn away from the lure of social media pontificating and put our energy into the actual work.
– “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” I saw this motto on a plaque at a 2016 event honoring LaVern Johnson, who has devoted decades to serving on Town of Lyons boards and commissions. The good news in 2020 is Mrs. LaVern is still here in Lyons actively promoting causes she is passionate about, albeit via Zoom meetings currently. She attends virtually to keep track of what the Lyons Board of Trustees is doing and to give her historically valuable input. Just like in 2016, or in decades before, when she was raising her children and championing a new Parks and Recreation department in town, there’s a natural tendency to proclaim that something needs to get done, but it is someone else’s job. We naturally want to blame others when events don’t unfold the way we think they should. I have found that people who are passionate about initiatives should take the lead, and those who aren’t willing to devote the time and energy should accept the leaders who step forward. There’s always room for others to sit at the table and debate the direction, but they have to be willing to devote the time to do so. Now, although all the meetings are virtual, there are still empty seats on boards and commissions waiting for volunteers.
We still face many other affordable housing issues, such as aging in place, and a home sharing approach for elders who have extra rooms in their homes but need help with home or yard tasks. (This might need to be reexamined in the time of physical distancing.) But our community has a lot to be encouraged about in terms of what has already been accomplished. In 2018, I walked home from a Summit Housing Group question and answer session at Lyons Middle and High School focused on an early version of the proposal for Lyons Valley Park. I wondered if in a few years I would be walking through the neighborhood and see new residents of affordable rental homes who were biking with their children or gathering at their community room for an event. The gathering for an event in a community room seems a foreign concept right now, but I’m so glad that it will be possible some day. That evening in 2018, as I walked on Second Avenue, completion of the Habitat for Humanity buildings seemed so far away, even though 112 Park Street was already under construction. When the final Habitat building was completed last month, I rejoiced in front of my computer, watching a video of new homeowners opening their doors.
A few months ago, I talked to a Lyons Valley Park homeowner who was concerned about safety for her kids with speeding traffic in the neighborhood. I mentioned that the new residents who would move into the neighborhood in Summit’s proposed buildings would probably include other moms with kids who ride bikes, and who also care about traffic safety in the neighborhood. It’s an opportunity for more caring neighbors who are part of the community to get involved in making the neighborhood better for everyone, just like the families who bought the Habitat for Humanity townhomes, or people who rent in town now. Lyons has a history of volunteers working to make the community a better place to live, from Mrs. LaVern to young parents of today, families of all sizes, couples, and single people of all age groups who work together.
In less than a month, my husband and I will be leaving Lyons after nearly 17 years, moving away for an out-of-state job. Just like people who volunteer on town advisory boards step down when they move away from Lyons, I am stepping down from writing this affordable housing column. It’s a good stopping point. So much has been accomplished, compared to the disheartening moments, setbacks, and delays faced over the past six and a half years since the flood. Despite the challenges, the Lyons community pulled together, individually and collectively, for healing and resilience after the flood.
It’s a bright future for affordable housing in Lyons if this collaboration continues. I look forward to learning what happens in Lyons in the years to come.