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Area land trust removing barriers to homeownership
Land Trust/Habitat Home
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Credit: Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust
Habitat for Humanity built this Charlottesville duplex on property owned by the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust.
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Josh Mandell | Friday, October 28, 2016 at 3 p.m.

A Charlottesville nonprofit corporation is working to create affordable homeownership opportunities in the area as real estate values continue to rise.

The Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust held an open house earlier this week at CitySpace to raise awareness of the organization among local government officials, real estate professionals and other members of the community.

The land trust serves prospective Charlottesville-area homeowners whose household income is at or below 80 percent of the area median income. It provides land at little or no cost, while homebuyers pay for the house and other improvements.

The trust retains the land through a 90-year renewable lease. To keep the home affordable to future buyers, homeowners cannot resell their home at full market value. Appreciation of the home’s value is capped at 25 percent in the lease agreement allowing some return on investment but maintaining affordability for future qualified applicants.

“A community land trust escalates the success of everybody involved,” said Greg Slater, a Nest Realty associate broker and member of the land trust’s board of directors. “It creates a permanent inventory of affordable housing. A land-trust home is an investment that can be used again over time and becomes more affordable over time.”

Anne Gardner, CEO of the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, said local real estate agencies are supportive of the land trust.

“It’s about building community, not just selling homes,” Gardner said. “Every family deserves the opportunity to have safe, affordable shelter.”

Bob Adams, an affordable-housing consultant working with the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust, said such organizations can help counter the declining homeownership rate in the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area.

“They bring that opportunity to working-class families and a wider range of folks,” Adams said.

The land trust was formed in 2008, but the Great Recession prevented it from purchasing a home until 2012. It currently leases land to five households. Two families live in a duplex built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, and two more families live in houses built in partnership with the city of Charlottesville.

The trust has acquired just one existing home so far. Alex Amorin, the homeowner representative on the trust’s board of directors, lives in the three-bedroom house in Belmont with her husband, Lucas, and their daughter, Greta.

Amorin said her family was about to leave Charlottesville in search of more-affordable housing when the Piedmont Housing Alliance told her about the land trust. With the aid of the trust, the Amorins were able to buy their home in Belmont, which has enough land for them to garden and raise chickens.

“This wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of the land trust,” said Amorin, a social worker. “There’s a complete sense of safety. We are not in a situation where we are one paycheck away from losing our homes.”

At Monday’s open house, Frazier Bell, chairman of the land trust, sought suggestions from government officials to accelerate the organization’s growth.

Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos asked if the organization could allow someone who bought land for the trust to collect a small return on their investment as its value increased. Bell said this would only be possible when the trust had enough money in reserve.

“We want to own the land, free and clear,” Bell said.

Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Genevieve Keller said she is interested in working with the trust to acquire historic homes in the city. She said this would allow more middle-class families to receive tax credits from the state for rehabilitating these homes.

Former Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris asked if the trust would be involved in the upcoming redevelopment of the city’s public housing facilities.

Board member Julia Monteith, senior land-use planner for the University of Virginia, said most of the new public housing will be rented, but a portion of it could be sold through the land trust.

There are more than 250 community land trusts in the United States. The Charlottesville-area group is currently the only community land trust in Virginia, but Newport News and Richmond soon will get such organizations.

“The more land trusts we have in Virginia, the easier it will be for all of us,” Bell said.

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