For every 100 extremely low-income renter households, there are only 29 affordable and available rental units. This is arguably one of the single greatest challenges faced by American cities.
As we move forward with our next tiny house project, Emerald Village, I’ve been looking more into Community Land Trusts, and in the process I’ve become convinced that it's the most viable path to truly address our national housing affordability crisis.
In a Community Land Trust, a ground lease separates the ownership of the land from ownership of the buildings. And, they include a resale formula that allows for a modest gain in equity while restricting excessive profit. Together, these two elements keep homeownership accessible and sustainable for more people, including those with very low incomes. Along with preserving perpetual affordability, it also preserves taxpayer investments far more effectively, and results in staggering low rates of foreclosure (source).
Recently, I was quite intrigued to learn that the CLT model overlaps with something else I’ve been following closely—the grassroots presidential campaign launched by Bernie Sanders.
Sanders is very publicly taking on the billionaire class and the corrupt influence of big money in politics—restoring a sense of optimism to American politics for many of us. His campaign has boldly opted out of forming a Super PAC, and has instead started a Super Pack, operating on modest monthly contributions from everyday citizens.
To the surprise of many, both Bernie Sanders and his Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, are surging in the polls—what can only be described as a genuine 'fuck you' from the people to the existing political establishment. However, Sanders is speaking to important issues with pragmatic solutions, whereas Trump is simply stirring the pot with elementary-level rhetoric.
And on the issue of affordable housing—an issue that most politicians stumble through at best—Bernie actually gets it. As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he led the formation of the Champlain Housing Trust—the first community land trust to partner with a municipality, and now the largest in the nation, with around 2,000 housing units preserved as permanently affordable.
Here is an excerpt from Brenda Trophy, describing Sanders’ connection to this innovative model for affordable housing:
"The Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) was born in a small city with a big idea: by creating a stock of permanently affordable housing everyone could have access to a decent, affordable home, regardless of income. This was the grand vision of a newly elected progressive government led by Mayor Bernie Sanders who came into office in 1981, the same year as Ronald Reagan began his own two-term presidency.
The Reagan Revolution forced the Sanders’ administration to develop innovative solutions for Burlington, Vermont’s housing problems within the context of the federal withdrawal of needed funding from affordable housing and community development programs.
...When Mayor Sanders created the Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) in 1982 to help implement his progressive agenda, work on establishing a community land trust soon got underway...
...The Burlington Community Land Trust was the first municipally supported CLT in the United States, a direct result of the City of Burlington’s general embrace of permanent affordability as the only socially equitable and fiscally prudent way for the public to create and to sustain affordable housing. Bernie Sanders and his immediate successor, Mayor Peter Clavelle, were outspoken champions of decommodified housing. Both administrations acted to codify this principle into municipal policy and municipal ordinances. Their goal was to ensure that any public investments in affordable housing would go primarily – even exclusively – into housing that would be kept permanently affordable.
As they worked to create new resources for the development of affordable housing, therefore, they also worked to ensure the lasting affordability of any housing produced with those resources. This twin commitment to expanding the supply of housing and to preserving the affordability of that housing was woven into the Housing Trust Fund, capitalized through a penny increase on the property tax rate; the Inclusionary Zoning ordinance, where the affordability of all IZ units had to be preserved for 99 years; and ordinances regulating the conversion of rental housing to condominiums and the loss of existing housing because of demolition or conversion to commercial uses."
Learn more about where Bernie Sanders stands on these issues:
Bernie on Affordable Housing
Bernie on Homelessness