Community Land Trust helps Sitka’s mom build her own house
Chandra Watson has lived with her mother her entire life.
Watson, a 34-year-old single mother, works full time at a local bank and normally waits for tables next door. But that work has dried up during the pandemic.
She can’t afford to rent a space at the moment, so she and her three children share a corner of her mother’s one-story house – Watson and the baby in one room and her 6 and 11-year-olds in The other. She said it has been particularly difficult during the pandemic.
“It’s been a long time together that we’re not used to,” Watson said. “And there’s nowhere to quarantine. We all have to share a space. “
In 2020, fair market rent for a three bedroom was over $ 1,800 and one Rental market survey 2020 placed the average total rent in Sitka higher than in any other area of the state. With rental rates this high, saving for a home can seem like an impossible dream for many young Sitkans. When good condition starter homes are put up for sale, the price is often out of reach for many young professionals.
“It seems like it’s almost impossible,” Watson said. “There’s no way I can afford a $ 450,000 house that needs some work.”
But thanks to a new affordable housing development, Watson and her children will be moving into a brand new home later this summer. And at $ 265,000, the price is $ 100,000 less than Sitka’s average registration price. Watson will pay between $ 1,300 and $ 1,400 per month for housing.
“As a younger, single mom doing all of this on my own, there was no other way I felt in this town that I could have done this without this program,” he said. she declared. .
the first house in the S’us’ Héeni Sháak community The chalet district was completed last summer, and two more are under construction. The long term goal is to build a small community of approximately 14 affordable single family homes.
A big part of what makes homes so affordable is that homeowners don’t buy the land below. It belongs to the Sitka Community Land Trust, the organization behind housing development. An empty lot can easily cost Sitka $ 100,000, according to the organization’s co-executive director Randy Hughey.
“There isn’t a lot of land, right? We are stuck between the Tongass and the Pacific, ”said Hughey. “It’s common in Sitka to buy land and have someone build a house, and the amount you spent on the land and the house exceeds the value of the house you are creating.”
Hughey said the lack of affordable housing has been a problem in Sitka since arriving in the community 30 years ago – and likely long before that.
“Every year, housing is a crisis. It’s a huge problem – availability, quality of stock, affordability. There are not enough buildings, ”said Hughey. “They cost too much and there are too many buildings that people shouldn’t be living in.”
The chalet project has been going on for years.
Back in 2015, the city sold the land to the Sitka Community Development Corporation, the forerunner of the Sitka Community Land Trust. The land, as well as two adjacent lots that the organization still hopes to acquire, was designated as affordable housing by a 2006 referendum. They also received Rasmuson Foundation money, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium and other donors.
Creation of the Sitka Community Development Corporation review of the community land trust model in 2013.
The idea is that instead of selling the land to an owner, it is placed in a trust. The owners sign 99-year renewable leases for the land and pay a small monthly fee. They also choose from a handful of designs for simple and small structures, which helps keep construction costs down. And the community land trust serves as a resource for the potential owner throughout the application and construction process.
“That’s not what will solve the affordable housing problem in Sitka per se, but it is part of the problem,” Hughey said.
There are about 300 community land trusts across the country, but Sitka’s is one of three in Alaska. The other two are in Juneau and Anchoring.
The model has been around for 50 years, but has grown in popularity over the past decade, said Michael Brown of Burlington Associates, a community land trust consultancy firm.
“There is a recognition of the ability of the community land trust to ensure that housing remains affordable at all times, and not just affordable to the initial occupant,” said Brown.
Affordability stays true to the house over time. If an owner decides to sell, the community land trust controls the resale and sets limits on the new purchase price. This can be a drawback for homeowners as they likely won’t get as much for the home as they would on the open market. But they will get all the money they put into it and more.
For Sitka’s model, this is 25% of any increase in estimated value. For example, if the owner buys one of the cottages for $ 200,000. When they want to sell, they are valued at $ 300,000. They get the money they invested in it plus $ 25,000. The Sitka Community Land Trust then sells the house to a new buyer for $ 225,000, which is less than its appraised value.
“I want to be very clear that community land trusts do not challenge individual property rights. What we’re really trying to do is help provide access to people who are excluded from it because of market conditions and household incomes, ”Mr. Brown said. “These are issues beyond their control.”
Brown helped Sitka create their community land trust, which was officially founded in 2016. He said each community’s model is unique.
“There is a C in CLT. They’re community organizations… it’s more than just providing affordable housing. It’s about being good stewards of the land, ”he said. “It’s about creating affordable housing, but also about ensuring that services and resources are available to the people who live in the housing.
“It’s not about managing their lives, but about making sure that we are doing whatever we can to help improve the chances of people being successful over time, helping them make transitions through when it is. is the right time. “
Looking forward to
The price of the cottages is not accessible to everyone. Typically, people must earn at least 80% of the region’s median income to pay the payments. That’s about $ 60,000 for a couple. And even so, many don’t have enough savings for a down payment, especially since the cost of living in Sitka is so high, said Co-Executive Director Mim McConnell.
“We’re trying to get house prices down enough that people can afford a mortgage. And we find it difficult. We would like home prices to be lower than they are, ”McConnell said.
She said opening up additional financing options, like rural development or VA loans, could help. For now, their target audience is young professionals looking for a starting home, which McConnell says is not uncommon for a community land trust.
“And our community needs these people,” McConnell said. “I mean, the police, the fire department, the nurses, the teachers – these are all very important parts of our community and if they can’t afford to live here we are in trouble.
Sitka CLT doesn’t just work on cottages. They have also thought about developing individual houses as the land becomes available or is donated to the organization. And they thought of working in other communities in the southeast, like Tenakee Springs.
The Sitka Community Land Trust faces some hurdles. They still have to acquire two more plots of the city, that a 2006 referendum designated for affordable housing. And they had to temporarily halt construction of all additional homes because the pandemic has skyrocketed the cost of materials, making house prices both unpredictable and unaffordable.
And even for pre-pandemic homebuyers like Watson, the price is still high: she will spend about half of her income on housing costs. But she said it was worth having her own house. His 6-year-old son Cameron said he was eager to paint his own bedroom.
“My mind is like running around with all of these different things that I can do with the house to design it, how to decorate it, how many new memories and experiences and traditions that the kids and I can bring here,” Watson said. “I’m so excited to have this new start with them.”
After having her third child last year, she thought about moving to a more affordable place. But now, she said, she’s staying for good. This is where her family and support networks are located.
It’s my house.