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Land Trust Touted as Anti-Gentrification Tool

Brent Warren Brent Warren Land Trust Touted as Anti-Gentrification ToolPhoto via Flickr.
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The City of Columbus and Franklin County announced last week the creation of the Central Ohio Community Land Trust, to be overseen by the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation.

It’s an effort that has been in the works for months, and one that advocates hope can become an effective tool in the fight against gentrification.

Mayor Andrew Ginther made the new land trust a focus of his recent State of the City Address.

“We are also moving from a land bank to a land trust system,” he said in the speech. “A land trust will allow our neighborhoods to preserve affordability on a property permanently, allowing seniors and other residents to stay in their homes.”

What is a Land Trust?

Under the traditional land bank model, homes or vacant lots are sold at a low price on the condition that the buyer invests in the property in a timely manner. It’s a proven way to spur development activity in places that investors would otherwise ignore. However, if that investment leads to an increase in nearby property values, the land bank home will not stay affordable. Its value will increase as the neighborhood gentrifies, and the original investor or homeowner is free to cash out at any point.

The aim of a land trust, on the other hand, is “permanently affordable home ownership.”

Under the land trust model, homeowners own their homes, but the land underneath it stays in the trust. This allows for restrictions to be put in place to ensure that the house does not appreciate in value beyond a certain, fixed rate. So, while a land trust house can be bought for a modest price, the homeowner is required to sell it for a modest price as well. This limits how much money they can make on the property, but also guarantees a reasonable price for the next buyer.

The preliminary goal of a land trust is similar to that of many affordable housing programs — to spur investment in a specific place and to create housing for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to buy into the neighborhood. The long-term goal, though, is to ensure that future homeowners of modest means will also be able to buy into the neighborhood, even if surrounding property values have skyrocketed.

Pilot Program

The new initiative will focus on four Columbus neighborhoods to start, according to Ginther: Franklinton, the South Side, the Near East Side and Weinland Park.

Jim Sweeney, a community redevelopment consultant and former executive director of the Franklinton Development Association, is a fan of the idea.

“It’s great to see the city and county come together with such a creative program,” he said. “Franklinton, being so close to Downtown, is starting to really feel gentrification pressure…this should help.”

An initial $3.8 million in city funding will “leverage private and non-profit funding” to build 40 single-family houses this year, according to a press release. The plan is to use bond money as well for the initiative, which could grow in the future to include additional neighborhoods, as well as larger, multi-family developments.

While details of the program and how exactly it will be rolled out have not yet been released, expect more announcements in the near future. In the meantime, elected officials at the city and county level are lining up to support it.

“This is an innovative and creative long-term urban planning option to address affordable housing in the city,” said new City Councilmember Shayla Favor in a statement. “This concept can stabilize communities by guaranteeing mixed-income housing and help mitigate the impacts of property tax growth.”

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