Community land trusts coming to town

Community land trusts coming to town

Between 2000 and 2006, the median sales costs of houses doubled in the Charlottesville metropolitan area, and the county nearly kept the same pace. As a result, housing became affordable only for the few with enough money to spend on escalating properties. Your average family was practically priced out of town. 

“I was at a party about three and a half years ago talking about how hard it was for my children to find a home,” says area mortgage lender Frazier Bell. Shortly thereafter, he ran into an old frat brother from his days at UVA named Bill Edgerton. The old friends’ conversation drifted to a topic fresh on both their minds. As a member of Albemarle County’s Planning Commission, Edgerton is constantly confronted with the area’s housing dilemma. He had a suggestion for Frazier Bell. Had he ever heard of something called a community land trust (CLT)?

Frazier Bell, chairman of the interim Board of Directors for the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust, says the TJCLT is “just one mechanism” in the effort to bring more affordable housing to the area.

A few years and a lot of research later, Bell is now the chairman of the interim Board of Directors for the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust (TJCLT), the latest area effort to help provide home ownership to those in need of a little boost. An idea first started in the 1960s, a CLT works simply by setting up a nonprofit that purchases property that it owns for perpetuity. The nonprofit then sells the houses on the property but retains ownership of the land that it’s on, thus keeping the overall housing costs down. “We act as a steward of the land,” says Bell.

The TJCLT is currently filing for incorporation as a nonprofit and hopes to be formed by the end of the year. At that point, they will have to start looking for land to purchase. “It’s a good time to start one of these,” says Bell, explaining that the current downturn in the housing market will make property cheaper.   

Money will also be a chief concern. TJCLT’s current plan calls for the development of 110 units over a five-year period at the cost of $8.5 million. Right now, they have little of that capital, but Bell says there are many potential sources of money, both federal and local funding, as well as any help they can get from private and other nonprofit groups.

“We’re just one mechanism,” Bell says, in the effort to bring more affordable housing to the area.
“It’s a piece of the puzzle,” says Theresa Tapscott, executive director of the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program. “A CLT would put people into home- ownership-type situations that otherwise wouldn’t be.”

Of course, not everyone is a fan of the idea of community land trusts. One of the main criticisms levied against it is based on the fact that, because land is not involved, it is only a limited type of home ownership. So while a CLT keeps housing prices down, it also significantly reduces the amount of money made on resale. “They get a fair return on their investment,” says Tapscott, noting that a buyer turned seller does reap the appreciation the actual house accrues for the time they lived in it. That and the prospect of keeping housing affordable are enough of an argument for the TJCLT, as far as Tapscott is concerned. “They can grow their personal wealth later on.”

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