Neighborhood Organizers Becoming Housing Developers
Many housing activists are turning to community land trusts as a way to help build the nation’s stock of permanently affordable housing.
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
By Miriam Axel-Lute and Dana Hawkins-Simons
As interest in urban living grows, the cost of residential real estate in many hot markets is skyrocketing. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS 2015), in 2014 rental vacancy rates hit their lowest point in two decades; rents rose in 91 out of 93 metropolitan areas studied; and the consumer price index for contract rents climbed at double the rate of inflation—and 10 percent or more at the top end, in Denver, San Jose, Honolulu, and San Francisco. Despite some interruption from the mortgage crisis, asking prices for homes for sale have continued to rise as well, often beyond the reach of potential home buyers (Olick 2014); in Washington, DC, the median home value nearly tripled from 2000 to 2013 (Oh et al. 2015). As housing activists look for effective tools to prevent displacement of lower-income families from gentrifying neighborhoods and create inclusive communities, many are turning to community land trusts (box 1) as a way to help build the nation’s stock of permanently affordable housing.
Box 1: The CLT Model
Under the CLT model, a community-controlled organization retains ownership of a plot of land and sells or rents the housing on that land to lower-income households. In exchange for below-market prices, purchasers agree to resale restrictions that keep the homes affordable to subsequent buyers while also allowing owners to build some equity. The CLT also prepares home buyers to purchase property, supports them through financial challenges, and manages resales and rental units.
CLTs thus bring sustainable home ownership within the reach of more families, supporting residents who want to commit to their neighborhoods for the long term. In gentrifying areas, they provide an effective way for lower-income families to retain a stake in the neighborhood because they take a single initial subsidy (which could come from a variety of sources, often public programs such as the HOME Investment Partnerships Program or Community Development Block Grants) and attach it to the building, keeping the units affordable over time without new influxes of public money. In weak housing markets, they are beneficial as well (Shelterforce 2012), providing the financial stewardship that ensures fewer foreclosures, better upkeep, and stable occupancy. In 2009, at the height of the foreclosure crisis, Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) loans were 8.2 times more likely to be in the foreclosure process than CLT loans, despite the fact that CLT loans were uniformly made to low-income households (Thaden, Rosenberg 2010), and MBA loans included all income brackets. Of the very few CLT homes that did complete foreclosure, none were lost from the CLT’s portfolio.