Community land trust focuses on affordable housing on Whidbey

A new community land trust has begun on Whidbey Island in response to rising housing costs.

A new community land trust has begun on Whidbey Island in response to rising housing costs that have priced many families and employees of local businesses out of the market.

Called Home on Whidbey, the nonprofit organization’s goal is to create permanently affordable homes for island residents by acquiring land, thus removing it from the speculative real estate market.

Home on Whidbey follows a model that has been used successfully by many other community land trusts, some of which exist nearby on the San Juan Islands, which have faced similar housing problems.

In the 1960s, civil rights organizers developed the concept of community land trusts as a way for African-American farmers to benefit from working rural land. New Communities Land Trust, according to an NPR article, was established over 50 years ago as the nation’s pioneering community land trust. Its current reincarnation focuses on helping Black landowners profit from farming.

Most modern community land trusts follow the model of this first one, but many with a specialization in home, rather than land, ownership.

Paul Schissler, interim executive director for Home on Whidbey, said the organization, which is not even a year old yet, is in its early stages. This includes building community support. A recent informational session in Langley had nearly 100 attendees.

“When there’s grassroots support working together to solve the affordability problem, then things can really get going,” he said.

Home on Whidbey is seeking members, who pay annual dues of $25 and have a vote in who gets elected to the organization’s board of directors.

Like other community land trusts, Home on Whidbey will rely on a mixture of different funds to get work done, including private donations and state and federal grants.

Schissler explained that Home on Whidbey defines affordability as housing for which the occupants are paying no more than 30%, or about one-third, of their income on housing costs, including utilities.

For many on Whidbey right now, this is simply not a reality.

“We’ve watched over the years as Whidbey becomes a place that seems to price out affordable housing,” said Kirsten Johnson, the president of the board for Home on Whidbey and a Langley homeowner.

The goal of the new community land trust, she added, is to make Whidbey Island a community where people who work here can also afford to live here, so people who grew up on the island don’t have to move away and workers don’t have to live in their cars to make ends meet.

“We really believe in home ownership as a basic right,” she said.

One important component of community land trusts is making sure homes are affordable in perpetuity. Home on Whidbey will own land that is leased at a nominal fee to homeowners occupying the property. This lease for land, which runs 99 years, is both renewable and inheritable.

Homeowners have a chance to build equity by agreeing to a predetermined resale formula, which raises the price of the home over time while still remaining affordable to future buyers of modest means.

Though no projects have been confirmed and Home on Whidbey doesn’t currently own any land yet, the organization is considering a partnership with South Whidbey LLC, the property owners who have proposed a housing development that will be affordable, at least in part, near Coles Road in Langley.

“We’re hoping the community land trust idea catches on … and makes people realize it’s possible to buy a home,” Schissler said.

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