Maggie Walker Community Land Trust as a Solution to Neighborhood Gentrification

Many LMR Quest alumni no doubt recall that initial seminar day when participants first broke out into their “immersion groups” to analyze and report on a topic of general interest to the region.  Confronted with such broad subjects as “transportation” or “housing”, the first step was narrowing to something manageable.  As wet-behind-the-ears members of the (best!) Class of 2016, our group tackled the housing topic by drilling down on a very specific but innovative solution being brought to bear on the expansive affordable housing challenge our region faced.  The specific challenge was gentrification, i.e. the pricing out of existing residents due to rising home values, and the potential solution was the use of a “community land trust.”  Here, we figured, was something innovative worth spotlighting to our classmates.  We never could have predicted how quickly this nascent idea would blossom into one of the region’s most potent tools for affordable homebuying!

Since the last census, many neighborhoods across RVA have undergone growth and revitalization.  While this is good news, it can produce the side effect of placing an increased burden on existing residents.  Our rising rents and home purchase prices have decreased the supply of affordable housing, which is struggling to keep pace.  In the context of homebuying, a common affordability solution is to provide grants or forgivable/low-interest loans.  One limitation to this approach is that the benefit must be replicated each time a property changes hands, as there is no longer-term protection to preserve affordability, or more importantly, to prevent displacement.

The concept of a community land trust takes a different approach.  The CLT is typically a non-profit that acquires land and either constructs or rehabilitates homes in neighborhoods confronting a dramatic rise in property values.  When a CLT home is “sold” to a qualifying homebuyer for an affordable price, the CLT retains ownership of the land and imposes restrictions on the future sale of the property, including a resale formula that ensures future affordability on each successive sale.  This ensures that the benefit of the affordability is passed on into the future.

Around the same time as our Quest immersion research in 2016, a group of affordable housing thought-leaders convened to explore a possible CLT in RVA.  This effort stemmed in part from the seminal 2015 Housing the Richmond Region Report by the Partnership for Housing Affordability, closely affiliated with the Richmond Association of Realtors and its CEO, Laura Lafayette.  This group leveraged the expertise and commitment of pillars in the non-profit affordable housing community such as Metropolitan Richmond Habitat for Humanity, project:HOMES, and others, to strategize how to implement a CLT for this region.  Soon the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust was born!

What began as a glimmer of an idea has over time become an important tool in the effort to preserve affordability in neighborhoods undergoing acute home value appreciation.  The organization started small, beginning with the acquisition of a single parcel and groundbreaking on its construction of a new home in Church Hill on June 5, 2017.  Today, the MWCLT expects to acquire over fifty properties a year for the next several years.  There are several essential ingredients to the immediate success of the organization.

  • Controlling Acquisition/Construction Costs. For the model to succeed, the CLT must have an inexpensive means of acquiring land and constructing or rehabilitating residences.  Thanks to a partnership with the City of Richmond, the MWCLT has been designated as a land bank for the City’s formerly tax delinquent and City-owned vacant properties, offering an important pipeline of properties without the burden of significant acquisition costs.  This innovate approach marks the first combined CLT and land bank in the nation.  Likewise, partnerships with Habitat and Project:HOMES provide an affordable means of securing quality rehabilitation and construction on these parcels.
  • Funding Partners. Private partners such as the Virginia Credit Union and Bon Secours have provided essential support in the form of unrestricted operating funds to facilitate the acquisitions and construction, as well as other support.  Over the long term, cultivating a dedicated group of corporate and individual support will remain critical.
  • Professional Expertise. Since its inception, the MWCLT has relied upon the indispensable strategic guidance of HDAdvisors, its president, Bob Adams, and his team, who have set the organization on a path for sustainability.  Similarly, the MWCLT brought on Nikki D’Amado-Damery to serve as Community Coordinator, with an office located in Church Hill, one of the organization’s priority neighborhoods.

While our immersion group cannot claim any special impact on the MWCLT’s early efforts, our goal was to illuminate to our peers the depth of the gentrification challenge and the unrealized potential we saw in the CLT model.  The implementation of that model, which has expanded from Church Hill to Randolph to even 9 homes in Chesterfield, offers a compelling solution to a vexing problem facing many in our community.  While much remains to be done, the MWCLT and its partners deserve to be recognized as innovative leaders in the fight to preserve housing affordability in greater Richmond.

For more information about the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, please visit their website at maggiewalkerclt.org.

Preston Lloyd, Williams Mullen
Class of 2016

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