Long Island faces a dual crisis of housing affordability that has placed both rental and ownership housing out of reach for many families. While the subprime bust sharply lowered home prices in many parts of the U.S., they did not fall significantly on Long Island. This is partly because the foreclosure crisis was localized to a set of communities – particularly communities of color – that received large infusions of subprime capital during the boom, and then experienced a devastating wave of foreclosures. As a result, the region’s homebuyers encounter a challenging market with restricted conventional financing, even as communities contend with the spillover effects associated with vacant property and lost household wealth.
What is a Community Land Trust? Community land trusts have been proposed as one approach that can help neighborhoods deal with the remaining stock of abandoned and REO housing, and provide long-term, multi-generational housing affordability. In the model, a land trust acquires and often renovates properties, and then sells the built structures to new owners while retaining the land on behalf of the community; this lowers the purchase price for the homebuyer, while obligating them (through a land lease agreement) to limit the home’s resale price. UCLT members – working in cooperation with the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition (GUAAC) – see the land trust as a powerful, long-term community development strategy that would help revitalize housing, strengthen participation, shore up household (leaseholder) assets and budgets, and stabilize the local economy and institutions. The foreclosure crisis provided the original impetus for the development of the UCLT.
Why Uniondale? Uniondale received a disproportionate number of subprime loans during the housing boom. More than half of the loans originated between 2005 and 2006 were high-rate, and the community has faced high levels of foreclosures, REO vacancies, and post-crash speculative investment. A successful CLT would ensure that the community retains affordable housing stock. Our model could also provide opportunities for apprenticeships and internships (i.e., in the renovation stage), preparing the local workforce for job openings associated with local development projects. In short, the CLT offers a means of rehabilitating vacancies into permanently-affordable, owner-occupied housing, while augmenting community control over the development process and its effects.
How Will it Work? For the last two years, the UCLT has deepened our grassroots engagement and built our civic capacity. Old and new members have worked collaboratively to develop our understanding of the land trust model, involve a greater range of community stakeholders, and retool our by-laws to ensure local leadership and empowerment. This process has developed a well-informed and engaged core member group, centered on an active Board of Directors. Our community land trust is included in the current Uniondale Vision Plan, adopted by Town of Hempstead.
We have also developed relationships with local non-profit organizations, including potential development partners (Habitat for Humanity of Nassau County), bridge and construction financing providers (Leviticus Fund), and architects (a graduate studio class from the Harvard Design School). We applied for 501(c)(3) status in 2013, and received it in mid-2014; we remain under the fiscal sponsorship of the Uniondale Community Council. More recently, we received a grant from the Long Island Community Foundation, which will allow us to hire a part-time staff person for the next 12 months. We have researched the local real estate market and identified three abandoned properties for possible acquisition as near-term opportunities.
Initially, at least, we would focus on single-family homes in the unincorporated hamlet of Uniondale. The group defines Uniondale in its by-laws as a core area consisting of the 11553, 11555, and 11556 zip codes, and a secondary area that includes those sections covered by the Uniondale School, Water, Fire, and Library taxing and voting districts. The area is multi-racial and multi-ethnic, with more than four-fifths of the population being Black or Hispanic/Latino, or both. Forty-two percent of the residents are foreign-born (primarily first-generation immigrants).
The UCLT’s target market would include households, ideally but not necessarily current residents of Uniondale, who are capable of paying a mortgage but incapable of affording a home on the open market. We aim to achieve affordability in the federally-defined “low-income” segment between 50% and 80% of area median income. Nassau County’s AMI in 2012 was quite high at $92,000; the corresponding figure for Uniondale was $69,510, placing the median household in Uniondale just inside the upper bound of eligibility. Although the land trust has no plans to limit eligibility by occupation, it is noteworthy that the starting salaries for employees in the Town of Hempstead (the most local level government for the area) fall just below the 50% AMI threshold. UCLT houses could thus provide ideal “starter” housing for public-sector employees. When possible, the UCLT also hopes to assist households who lost wealth during the foreclosure crisis become homeowners again, while ensuring that they are not put at risk a second time due to personal financial instability or unscrupulous lending practices. UCLT housing will have the direct effect of providing affordable housing for a range of households, but we also envision a range of positive indirect effects as well. By reducing turnover, UCLT housing will act as a stabilizing community asset for Uniondale’s neighborhoods and institutions. By reducing owner cost burdens and easing “paycheck-to-paycheck” precariousness, UCLT housing will also channel more money into local businesses, charities, and institutions, and free up more time for families juggling multiple jobs.