Modern residential segregation based on household income and personal wealth is an active component of our Atlanta community, fueling our region’s sprawl, increasing transportation conflicts and ultimately producing an ever larger number of challenged and disinvested neighborhoods. Young entry level workers, senior retirees and working families of all ages are often unable to secure safe, affordable, high quality housing in any neighborhood without the benefit of owning a car to access their jobs and basic services. Homeownership and control of land arguably remain the most impactful basis for wealth building, self sufficiency and the economic sustainability of American families. However exponentially increasing numbers of working Atlanta families are unable to attain ownership of a quality home in a stable neighborhood or land control of any type. Our entire nation continues to suffer the adverse effects of the economic recession and housing crisis, which has disproportionately impacted low and moderate income Atlanta families and neighborhoods.
In the current period of recovery, new avenues must be created to allow working families with limited incomes to both remain existing homeowners when possible or achieve first time homeowner status, regardless of the weak housing market and limited new job opportunities. Alternatives to the failed practices of the conventional mortgage market are rapidly emerging, particularly in the affordable housing sector, which have been proven to achieve lasting benefits for individual families and communities. The new and innovative Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative (ALTC), a non-profit organization created in 2009, now seeks to utilize a citywide strategy for shared ownership and access to land for Atlanta residents who desire to improve their neighborhoods. Our approach can facilitate a number of equity goals; addressing potential unwanted displacement, ensuring long-term affordability, and creating a more balanced geographic distribution of sustainable housing options for working families.
The ALTC is using a nationally proven non-profit Community Land Trust (CLT) model to assist local partners in providing housing options for low/moderate-income residents; increasing long-term neighborhood control of local assets; and preserving the affordability of housing permanently. Permanent affordable housing inclusion in new market rate housing developments, allows all current and future residents to enjoy a high quality of life with access to community amenities and vital services. CLT residents typically comprise at least a third of any non-profit CLT organization’s governing board, ensuring a direct link to the community it serves. Typically, non-profit CLTs acquire and retain ownership of land, and sell or rent homes on that land to income eligible buyers. A 99-year ground-lease ensures that CLT residents have full access rights to use the land under their homes and those same CLT homes are always sold at an affordable price to income eligible buyers at every future resale, while providing the sellers a fair return on original investment. As the market home sales price rises in the future a CLT home retains a portion of its equity based on the original public investment to keep the home affordable without additional public funding for downpayment assistance or price reductions. In a time of diminishing available public funding, a CLT home needs far less subsidy to remain permanently affordable, reducing reliance on limited public resources for future affordability.
CLTs have enjoyed an extended track record of success over the last two decades, with the creation of long-term affordable homeownership in over 250 communities across the nation. In spite of the ongoing national housing crisis, owner occupied shared equity affordable homes, under continual CLT program stewardship, are proven to be increasingly foreclosure resistant. According to a recent national study by the National CLT Network, in collaboration with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, conventional market homeowners were 10 times more likely to be in foreclosure proceedings than CLT homeowners at the end of 2010 (respectively 4.63% in the conventional market versus 0.46% in mortgages held by CLT homeowners). Many CLT homeowners eventually transition to traditional market rate homes, using their share of equity from the CLT home resale, and are successful in achieving the American dream of unrestricted homeownership. The CLT model allows any public investments to be retained in the CLT homes and available via re-sales of those homes to all future income eligible families in perpetuity. The non-profit CLT remains engaged with all CLT homeowners via a stewardship process; insuring CLT homes are maintained by their owners, assisting CLT families with ongoing financial counseling and fostering strong community connections as CLT homeowners directly participate in the governance of the CLT non-profit organization.
During 2011-2012, five Atlanta non-profit organizations including the Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE) and ALTC led discussions regarding equitable economic development opportunities, focused on future transit oriented developments such as the Atlanta BeltLine, the redevelopment of Fort McPherson, the planned Downtown Multi-modal Passenger Terminal, the Atlanta Streetcar now actively under construction and existing MARTA rail station properties. Our goals include seeking to create coordinated new tools and public policies, based on proven national best practices, to increase quality mixed-income housing opportunities adjacent to transit. Improved access to existing employment centers, reduction in automobile dependence, new job opportunities and a reasonable return on initial public and private investments with sustainable community benefits are anticipated to result from our efforts.
A number of barriers must be overcome to realize our collective goals for equitable development, which will ultimately require the direct active engagement and full support of a majority of Atlanta residents. The required integration of shared equity housing at scale in new transit oriented developments, using Community Land Trusts, can provide local community residents a clear voice in attaining the multiple benefits of well balanced sustainable growth. Local public policy for land use and development in Atlanta has traditionally favored private sector market driven priorities, which relied on ever increasing funding incentives to off-set the costs of community benefits such as affordable workforce housing inclusion. Altering the current public policies requires the collective will of the majority of our community and a clear mandate for our elected leaders to reinvent the public/private partnership model of real estate investment. The current weak private real estate market and increasingly limited public funding environment requires a new approach and new priorities for balanced future growth. Today, neither the public nor private sector alone can afford to financially support anything less than balanced growth with an equitable return on investment for all members of the Atlanta community. The ALTC is fully committed to continuing our visionary work with progressive partners such as PSE, a variety of neighborhood leaders, government agencies and private sector entities who desire to increase local resident awareness and positive actions to implement robust community driven initiatives for sustainable growth in Atlanta. Courage, patience and dedication over several years will be required to achieve meaningful change towards increasing local equity and that work represents a substantial initial investment from those Atlantans who are willing to join us and support the vision of a better City for all.
Tony Pickett is the Executive Director of the Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to function as a nationally innovative “central server”, creating and nurturing a favorable climate for Community Land Trust (CLT) shared equity affordable housing development and operations in Atlanta neighborhoods.