Local News

Land trusts an enduring framework for affordable housing

SCDC volunteer Cleo Brylinski.

SCDC volunteer Cleo Brylinski.

Community Land Trusts are becoming a more common way to create affordable housing, by allowing people to own homes, but not the land underneath them.

They have a long track record in the lower 48, for the moment they’re a new idea in Sitka.
The Sitka Community Development Corporation would like to change that. Board members and volunteers have launched a campaign to build awareness about Community Land Trusts, and to explain why they think CLT’s are a good fit for Sitka.

In part two of our series on this topic, KCAW’s Robert Woolsey talks with SCDC volunteer Cleo Brylinsky about how someone sets up a Community Land Trust.

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It sounds obvious, but without it, your land trust is going nowhere.

“You need land. You can get land that is donated to the land trust because maybe someone believes in it and donates the land. A community or municipality can put land in a land trust.”

Brylinski says there are other mechanisms as well. In Juneau, where a CLT owns a dozen properties, several were purchased through a federal program that buys up repossessed homes for conversion to a CLT or other affordability program.

As important as the land is a dedicated board. Brylinski is not on the board of the SCDC, but she attends many of their meetings. She feels the commitment is there. The challenge is to create an organization that can endure.

“You know you’re talking about developing a place for people to live. Part of the land trust involves having a lease with the homeowner, and it’s a 99-year lease. So you want to set up a framework that supports something that’s going to last a long time.”

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The basic idea in a Community Land Trust is that buyers purchase only their homes. The land under the buildings is held in perpetuity by the trust. In Juneau, those dozen properties in the CLT are sprinkled around town. That’s what Brylinski envisions for Sitka.

“In my mind, this isn’t about creating a low-income housing tract. It’s about providing affordable housing to not just low-income people, but even median-income people. There’s a need in this town for median-income folks to be able to find affordable housing.”

Although Sitkans probably agree on the need, there’s been a difference of opinion on the method. There’s been some resistance to attempts to control the market; other people have concerns over creating a costly management organization.

Again, this is not what Brylinski anticipates in Sitka.

“I don’t picture this as being a really big thing, and it certainly would be a slowly-developing thing. The only income stream that I hear about that a CLT would have is the monthly lease that is coming in from the properties.”

And she says CLTs don’t necessarily depress the market values of the neighborhoods where they’re located. Value and affordability are treated separately in a Community Land Trust.

“The house is still valuable, but you’re putting a limit on the amount of appreciation that the homeowner can realize at the time of sale, so that the new buyer comes in at a lower price.”

But if, over time, a CLT creates a certain number of homes available at below-market rates, wouldn’t that have an effect on the overall market in Sitka?

“I don’t think that there’d be enough CLT homes to do that. I don’t think they’re going to turn over like popcorn. It’ll be invisible — that’s what I think. There’ll will be a certain number of CLT homes that it has the potential to create homeowners that are prepared to buy those market rate homes because they have something more to spend.”

Brylinski says that a Community Land Trust can’t be put together overnight. Acquiring the land and creating a management structure could take one or two years.


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