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Durham Community Land Trust: A Model for Inclusive, Pro-Active Neighborhood Affordability

Thirty years ago, residents of Durham’s West End came together in response to rapidly rising housing prices, absentee landlords, and housing disrepair. Home ownership in the marginalized neighborhood needed to stabilize, as residents knew that homes would appreciate in value, putting families at risk for being priced out of homes that they’d live in for years, generations for some.

The community land trust model was emerging as a national strategy to preserve affordable housing in marginalized neighborhoods, and Durham voters had recently passed a housing bond referendum. Residents and community leaders saw an opportunity to build upon the investment in and visibility of affordable housing to establish Durham Community Land Trust (DCLT).

The Durham Community Land Trust saw many early successes in its work to preserve and revitalize Durham’s West End, which now boasts 130 Land Trust-owned rental units. Over time, DCLT expanded to other neighborhoods in need of affordable housing preservation, and now manages an additional 150 permanently affordable homes in Lyon Park, Burch Avenue, Morehead Hill, Lakewood Park, East Durham, and Southside. It was during this period of acquisition and expansion that DCLT began to partner with the NC Community Development Initiative and its lending arm, Initiative Capital.

Durham Community Land Trust Executive Director Selina Mack, who has been with DCLT for 21 years, describes the Initiative Capital lending as “instrumental” in enabling the Trust to purchase and rehabilitate homes. Over its 30-year history, DCLT has weathered several recessions—periods when banks simply weren’t lending to small, minority-owned companies or nonprofits. When commercial banks said no, Initiative Capital provided loans that enabled the Durham Community Land Trust to make investments in affordable housing at a time when residents were most in need of this support.

One such investment was a 2015 acquisition of a portfolio of eight rental homes that were on the market as investment properties. With an investment from Initiative Capital, DCLT was able acquire and maintain this affordable housing portfolio, which was at risk for being purchased by an investor and displacing the low-income tenants living there. Three years later, these units continue to provide stable, affordable housing to many of their original tenants.

Mack has observed an increased interest in this model for preserving affordable housing. She receives calls on a weekly basis from organizations requesting to learn more about the community land trust (CLT) model as a solution to rising home costs. “Creating affordable housing in communities experiencing rising housing cost is an uphill battle that requires large amounts of subsidies,” according to Mack. DCLT is responding to requests for information about the CLT model with a CLT 101 workshop in July 2018.

“Affordable housing should be a forethought. It is just too costly to create affordable housing as an afterthought.” -Selina Mack, Executive Director, DCLT

Note: Selina Mack is a long-time member of the Initiative Capital Board of Directors.

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