This Detroit neighborhood is using the community land trust model to help ensure affordable housing
Tasneem Joseph sits on the front porch of a yellow, two-story house on Detroit's west side, just down the street from the Detroit Muslim Center.
“This house has literally changed my life," said Joseph. "It's given me a haven for my children.”
Home for Joseph and her kids is the Indus Detroit Artist Residency, a house that was rehabbed by the Dream of Detroit community development organization, which operates out of the Muslim Center. It's one of the first homes the group moved into its newly formed Dream Community Land Trust.
Detroit’s housing market is pushing many people to start thinking outside the box when it comes to home ownership. For years, Detroit was seen as the place to purchase a decent, affordable home. But that is no longer the reality in many parts of the city.
The overly competitive market and the lack of diversity of paths to homeownership, has left residents like Joseph to look within their own community for support.
According to the Grounded Solutions Network, "community land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit organizations governed by a board of CLT residents, community residents and public representatives that provide lasting community assets and shared equity homeownership opportunities for families and communities."
In this model, a nonprofit holds land in trust for the community, while offering ownership of the home to a family at a lower cost.
Dream of Detroit is just one organization in Detroit adopting this new path to homeownership. The group "combines community organizing with strategic housing and land development to build a healthy community and revitalize our neighborhood," according to its website.
Its executive director, Mark Crain, started exploring new paths to homeownership after noticing how native Detroiters were being pushed out of the housing market.
“We went from a city that at one point boasted the largest share of Black homeowners in the country to being today a renter majority city," Crain said. "We went from being a city that was largely seen as a mortgage bubble by the banking industry to being a city that today has some neighborhoods that are seeing fair mortgages.”
Detroit was once seen as un-mortgageable by the banking industry, and even today most deals are still cash.
The news organization Reveal looked at lending data from 2016. They found that Black Detroiters were almost twice as likely to be denied loans.
Crain says access to mortgages is still a problem for Black folks in this majority-Black city. “What we're seeing is that they are predominantly going to white folks.”
So Crain has been working to create a different path to homeownership by forming the neighborhood’s first community land trust.
He believes that this model will protect the area from gentrification, while also locking in permanent, affordable housing for the neighborhood.
“We already see the folks buying properties to sit on them, holding them without making any investment, playing the long game because they've got, you know, patient money and they think that there's a big return in the future," Crain said. "We think there's a big return now.”
Dream of Detroit got help setting up its land trust from the Detroit Justice Center's Economic Equity Practice. Managing attorney Eric Williams says this is a great model for affordable home ownership. Typically, he says, people can purchase a home for 30 to 50% less than market rate.
Williams explains how a CLT works:
“This nonprofit owns the land. It leases parcels of the land to families or individuals. And they build a home on it. Now they own the home..... But they sign a 99-year lease, basically to rent the land.”
Because they’re only buying the house, and not the land, it makes the home more affordable — locking in a lower monthly payment for a family.
If a family ever sells the house, they may still make a profit, but there’s a limit on that profit. The model is meant to ensure that the home in the land trust stays affordable for the next family.
Williams says in places that have tried this, neighborhoods tend to be more stable.
“People who are renting a home on a community land trust or who are leasing the land there, are much less likely to go into foreclosure than people residing in other circumstances.”
And the benefits aren’t just financial. This model is most successful when set up by a group of people who are already in community with one another. That ensures a built-in support system.
Crain says Dream of Detroit is committed to centering their community and using their resources to help bring equity back to their neighborhood.
“We want to focus on revitalizing the neighborhood now. And we know that if we can use a vehicle like a land trust to lock in permanent affordability, we can make sure that this is a mixed-income neighborhood for generations to come.”
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