A new nonprofit organization plans to form a community land trust to make housing more affordable as home prices and rentals continue to rise.
“There are people in our town, seniors who have homes but can’t downsize because they can’t afford anything else other than where they live,” said Kirk Ritchey, principal founder of Woodstock Housing Alliance. “People need to change the circumstances and there are no options for them. There are people who want to live here who have grown up here and want to stay here. And those people need some options as well…Artists and creators of our town, they need options, the workforce, the employees of our businesses, they need housing,” Ritchey said at an August 25 informational meeting. “People are being forced out of town because they can’t afford to live here…It’s still going on. There’s a threat or level of uncertainty that’s in the realm of trauma,” he said.
One solution, the group believes, is a community land trust, which separates buildings from the land. That land is placed in a 99-year lease. Buildings on the land must be sold below market rate and rents are kept affordable.
“The market right now is, land is a commodity. The highest bidder wins and what goes on that land is up to the one who wins,” Ritchey said. “When you separate the land from the market, you change the dynamic of the market. When that property is no longer part of the market, it will no longer be available to the market from a commodity perspective.”
Buildings are then seen in a different light, he explained.
“That might be a rental. It might be for sale for first-time homebuyers,” Ritchey said.
When those first-time homebuyers sell the house because they need a bigger one, it will not have appreciated in the same way. They’ll likely still make some money, but it will sell below market rates.
“And that’s eyes wide open,” Ritchey said. “People know that when they bought the house. So they understand that there will be an increase in value, but will not be the same rate as that of the market.”
Property taxes would still get paid, but the trust would own the land.
Land and homes can be donated to WHA through estate planning and it is all tax deductible.
Duplexes, converted farmhouses and the missing middle
“This town is made up of mostly single family homes, and they’ve been built here for generations,” Ritchey said. “If we build a large apartment building for people below market, then it’s created a difference already, just from a building standpoint. And that difference perpetuates a social difference that we possess in our minds, in our culture. It’s an us-and-them situation,” he said. “We want those buildings to be at the same scale as the buildings in our town.”
Duplexes can be built side-by-side or stacked. Another idea is a cluster of cottages with a courtyard. Yet another form is middle housing, a concept that has all but disappeared. On the outside, a building appeared to be a single-family home, but if one looked closely, two or three electric meters indicated there were multiple units.
“From World War II, until now, all we built were single-family homes and large apartment buildings. That’s the only thing that was built. And that middle housing is what people were saying we need to bring that back into our communities,” Ritchey said.
In another example, old farmhouses can be converted into six apartments.
Building new is an option and new technology can make that cost effective. Energy efficient panels can be made offsite and brought onto the building site, where they will make up the walls and roof. Local builders will install the windows, cladding, doors and interior.
The Housing Alliance would be involved in retrofitting any buildings donated so they are energy efficient so the owners or tenants will not be saddled with high heating and cooling bills.
In addition to donation of land and homes, people can become investors with as little or as much money as they are willing to commit, whether it’s $500 or $20,000, Ritchey said.
“And what that does is it gives you the ability to take your retirement out of Wall Street and put it on Main Street and you can invest in your town,” he said.
A sense of stability
“Because we own the land, we’re in on that relationship,” Ritchey said. If people buy a home on the land trust and then fall behind in their payments, the Housing Alliance will be aware of it.
“What this does is allow for early intervention before it becomes really serious and foreclosure happens,” he said.
The idea for a Woodstock land trust was inspired by Martha’s Vineyard, where the Island Housing Trust was formed to keep housing affordable for the people who work on the island. It started about 15 years ago and now has 100 homes. It was also an effort to keep the area from going dark.
“We all know what that means. That means no one’s here. They own homes but they’re not here,” Ritchey said. “Our town is going dark and it’s been going dark for a number of years.”
Woodstock Housing Alliance will be hosting more community forums in the future.
Look for information on WHA and all things housing related on the Woodstock Community Homes Facebook page.