Cuyahoga Community Land Trust pushes affordable
By Lee Chilcote
It’s often said that homeownership is a part
of the American Dream. The image of a perky Colonial with a grassy
yard comes immediately to mind. Yet, home ownership is still out
of reach for many. One organization in the city, the Cuyahoga Community
Land Trust, has a new take on creating more homeowners.
You buy the house. They keep the land.
While Mayor Jane Campbell may be pushing to get more
middle- and upper-income buyers to move to Cleveland, this two-year-old
nonprofit organization has a somewhat different idea about how to
stimulate investment in Cleveland neighborhoods. Formed under the
Ohio City Near West Development Corporation before going solo in
2003, the group assists people in becoming homeowners, while ensuring
that the property remains affordable for future owners.
The organization achieves this balance using a land
trust model developed by similar groups across the country.
It works like this:
The Land Trust sells the home while continuing to
own the land. The owner still holds the deed to the house, and pays
all of the property taxes. Retaining ownership of the land allows
the group to offer a more affordable price because the community
retains control of the land. The group hopes that the homes will
act as a stepping stone for buyers entering the traditional housing
When the home is re-sold, the seller receives twenty
percent of the increase in the value. The remaining increase is
‘recycled’ to provide a subsidy for another buyer.
The group is also dedicated to finding a buyer who
earns 50 to 75 percent of the county's median household income.
This ‘community control’ ensures the home’s affordability
for the next generation of buyers.
So far, the land trust idea in Cleveland has been
“a tough sell because it’s hard to imagine housing prices
rising” in depressed city neighborhoods, says director, Marge
Misak. Despite this, Misak argues that the model works.
“This is one of the answers to sustaining affordable
housing,” she says. “We want to preserve the public
investments that we make in these homes as a community value. The
difference between a land trust house and a traditionally subsidized
home is the affordability, and the fact that the subsidy stays with
the house, and does not go with the buyer when he or she decides
to sell the home.
"This will help solve the problem of buyers taking
the appreciation out of the house and the city if they leave.”
The Land Trust has its origins in Ohio City, an area
hailed as an urban success story for its redevelopment. Although
this is good news for many, some advocates feel that affordable
housing is being left out of the mix. Rising home prices and higher-end
developments caused them to search out a new model for creating
“In Ohio City, there are many places where the
market is happening on its own,” says Misak. “Look at
John Avenue—there are four or five houses being rehabbed privately
right now. We need to use public resources to create and sustain
The time has never seemed more perfect, especially
in light of the recent debate about the role of public money in
development. Councilman Mike Dolan made headlines when he announced
plans last week to introduce a bill that would limit tax abatement
to new properties under $100,000 or $150,000 in value. The plan
has some urban developers, many of whom are lured by the city’s
policy of offering full, 15-year tax abatement on all new construction
housing, steaming mad.
Though Dolan’s plan has struck many others,
including housing advocates, as reactionary and hasty as well, Misak
argues that the time may be right to re-evaluate abatement in areas
where the market is functioning.
Misak argues that the tax abatement giveaway has led
to “a sense of entitlement” among developers. “Some
developers want free second mortgages for $400,000 townhouses!”
she says. “We should look at what’s happening with the
tax abatement that is ending after the fifteen year period—are
people still buying these units? If so, can we look at taking away
abatement where we no longer need it, or lessening the amount?”
In the end, the Land Trust provides an affordable
housing model that seems intended not so much to contradict the
city’s investment in high-end housing, but rather to complement
it, through investing in affordable housing. Thus far, the Land
Trust has completed two houses in Ohio City, both of which are occupied
and it has a memorandum of understanding with OCNW to complete a
total of ten new homes.
Down the road, Misak would like to expand the Trust’s
service area by forming collaborations with other community development
groups. “Look at the St. Clair Superior neighborhood, just
east of downtown,” says Misak. “The CDC looks at this
area as the next Tremont or Ohio City. If we build Land Trust homes
here, the appraisals would offer the ability to build upon the market
in that area. I think the Land Trust has the potential to create
value where the market is not there yet.”