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A Primer on Community Land Trusts

By: Community Builders Admin

Date: Dec, 12 2016

The latest news on affordable housing in our region puts Montana in a housing crisis. We’ve heard similar reports from other places ranging from resort communities to larger cities. So, what are communities doing about the issue?

The resort community of Big Sky, Montana recently announced the creation of a community land trust (CLT) to help provide reasonably-priced housing to improve housing options for local workers. This approach lowers the costs of housing by separating the ownership of the land from the ownership of the homes.

A new CLT is emerging in Big Sky, Montana

Here’s how it works: The land trust, which is usually a non-profit, but can be a government organization or quasi-government organization, owns title to the land, and sells or rents homes at a price that is well below other similar market-rate homes in the area. Because homeowners are only purchasing the buildings, and not the underlying property, prices can stay affordable, even for low-income earners.

Community Land Trusts place several restrictions upon homeowners and renters. In order to be eligible to purchase or rent a CLT home candidates must meet certain low income requirements. Eligible candidates must occupy the property and use it responsibly, they are generally not allowed to rent or sublet. And, resale prices are generally set by a formula that provides the homeowner a fair return, but keeps the home within an affordable range.

Examples of Community Land Trusts

There are more than 250 Community Land Trusts in the United States, including several in our region:

  • The North Missoula Community Development Corporation has 43 residential units, including a mix of townhomes and single-family detached houses, which they sell to community members earning less than 80 percent of the area median income. They are working on 7 new townhomes to add to their affordable housing portfolio in fall 2016.
  • The Northwest Montana Community Land Trust (NMCLT) in Kalispell was established in 2009, initially offering 16 single-family homes to families earning below 120 percent of the area median income. NMCLT reserves some properties for very  low-income people who earn less than 50 percent of area median income. In 2014, NMCLT acquired 13 additional homes to renovate and sell to as affordable housing.
  • The Bozeman office of the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) has 24 single family homes in Bozeman and 5 townhome duplexes in Livingston held in a community land trust. They also have additional lots slated for development: one in Bozeman and 10 in Livingston. All of the HRDC’s land trust homes are offered for sale to households earning less than 80 percent of the area median income.
  • In Ketchum, Idaho, the Arch Community Housing Trust offers a variety of units for sale or rent, some in partnership with the Blaine County Housing Authority. Arch manages 12 properties, including single-family homes, condos, and townhomes, all reserved for low income earners, with some set aside for those earning less than 60 percent of area median income. They also have a 24-unit apartment building for seniors with low to moderate incomes.
  • In Jackson, Wyoming the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust offers 118 homes through their community land trust, either for rent or for sale, including a mix of single-family homes and townhomes. They also have a new project in development which will add 28 rental units to their portfolio. All of their properties are offered to area residents earning less than 120 percent of area median income.
  • Thistle Communities in Boulder, Colorado manages a large portfolio of homes for sale or rent, including single family homes, townhomes, apartments and mobile homes. They have more than 200 properties offered for sale, and more than 600 units for rent. Ownership properties are offered to those earning less than 80 percent of the area median income, and rentals are reserved for those with very low incomes, less than 50 percent of area median income.
  • In Denver, the Colorado Community Land Trust offers more than 80 townhomes and single family homes to residents earning less than 80 percent of area median income. They have an additional 25 properties planned for future development. 

These examples—and many more around the country—demonstrate the great flexibility of community land trusts as a tool for meeting affordable housing needs. CLTs work in small towns and large cities, they offer opportunities for renters and homeowners, and income requirements can be adjusted for the unique characteristics of any housing market. 

Starting a Community Land Trust

But, it can be a daunting process to get started with a community land trust. Where does the funding come from? How can a CLT best meet your own community’s needs? What are the organizational requirements to get up and running? The National Community Land Trust Network offers a wealth of tools and resources for people who are interested in creating community land trust program. Check out their page to learn more about first steps, organizational considerations, tools for funding and financing and more. 

Also, make sure to watch our webinar "Community Land Trusts: A Tool for Comprehensive Development", which dives deep in to a couple examples of CLT's from the intermountain West. The video is below:

[***Editors Note: This blog was originally written by Alison Berry, a former staff-person]

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By: Community Builders Admin

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