The Sitka Community Development Corporation is trying to rebuild momentum for affordable housing in town.

The organization is also working on ideas to ensure its own sustainability.

Board chair Greg Reynolds says the SCDC has been surviving off of its savings lately, and has been exploring ways to generate some revenue.

He asked the Sawmill Cove board of directors recently if there was land available at the park for a “materials reuse center” – sort of a White E for builders.

“And it just seems like an idea – Sitka being a world-class garage sale town – that people would make use of it. There are lots of materials that get shipped out in the garbage stream.”

Reynolds says there will be no retail storefront, just a couple of shipping containers at first, possibly covered by a roof, and surrounded by a fence.

Reynolds is a builder himself. He says there’s a broad spectrum of stuff leaving town that – with some screening – could be put to good use.

“Whatever people want to get rid of. Some contractors take a large amount of material down to the transfer station and just  throw it away. Whatever we can get: 2×4’s, plywood, some people by excess materials. Individuals, too. I’ve got a pile of things that could be sold in a reuse center in my basement that I’ve been saving. I talk to people and they say, Oh yeah, I’ve got boxes of nails, this and that, this old window we could donate. So we’ll look far and wide.”

Reynolds thinks that ultimately, the materials reuse center may support a half-time position. The SCDC has not made any formal agreement yet with Sawmill Cove. Park staff is preparing proposals for a couple of sites that might suit the project.

And until that half-time position is created, the person you might see working at a future materials re-use center is assembly member Mim McConnell. McConnell serves as the unpaid director of the SCDC.

The SCDC was formed in 2006, as community leaders developed strategies to address the growing gap between average incomes and the cost of housing.

After a planned development on the old city shops land failed to win federal tax credits a few years ago, that effort flagged. Now, McConnell and the SCDC are on a new tack: Community Land Trusts, or CLT’s.

“It brings down the cost of a home, because they don’t have to pay for the land that the house is sitting on. In Sitka that is a huge deal, because as everyone knows who’s looked around, land prices are so high here. And we’ve just seen that at the assembly table.”

McConnell is referring to the recent auction of nine lots in the new Jacobs Circle subdivision in the Benchlands, with starting prices ranging from $99,000 to $164,000. No bidders showed up.

Community Land Trusts are widespread in the lower forty-eight. McConnell says the model has been used in retirement communities, and in other settings, where housing is the primary goal – rather than, say, building retirement savings.

Community Land Trusts operate outside of normal market forces.

“It’s an effective tool to help people get a home of their own. And they can sell it again, but it’s tied to the median income in town, and you can never speculate on a house like this. You’re not allowed to do that.”

McConnell attended a national CLT conference in Seattle earlier this fall and says she learned a lot. The SCDC is exploring a number of possibilities around town. A Community Land Trust can be built from scratch on donated land, or it can purchase existing homes and convert them into a trust.

Board chair Reynolds says it’s all about closing the gap between what regular people in Sitka can pay and what they can afford.

“The ratio of median income to starter-home price used to be 1:2 or 1:3. Now it’s 1:6. We’re trying to bring it down to 1:3.”

Reynolds says the SCDC is planning to hold some community forums on the issue in the new year.