Community land trusts could help Indy neighborhoods stay affordable

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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Home prices in downtown Indianapolis have skyrocketed over the past two years, driving people out. Now a group of community activists wants to help neighbors keep their own communities affordable.

Redevelopment in the Old Southside neighborhood is visible at just about every corner. Homes that were at one time rentals are being sold, remodeled and sold again. That redevelopment means many long-time residents are being priced out of the market.

And that’s not the only neighborhood. Ten years ago the Fountain Square area saw a huge push to build subsidized homes. Farther north, St. Clair Street alone saw at least five homes built by volunteers and future homeowners. The homes were intended to stabilize the neighborhood with homeowners instead of renters. As housing prices skyrocketed, many of those homes have since been sold.

Home for All Indy, a group of community activists and neighborhood leaders, wants to help keep homes affordable through community land trusts, the first to be developed in the state.

“When you buy the home that is developed in the community land trust, when you go to resell it, you sell it back to the community land trust. The community land trust has the first right of refusal,” said Andy Beck, a founding member of Home for All Indy. 

Community land trusts are a form of subsidized housing: Instead of being government-run, the trusts are neighborhood-based and not-for-profit. There are more than 200 community land trusts throughout the United States. 

“Your return on your investment, you get a fair return on your investment. You don’t get market rate; you don’t get to cash in for $40,000,” said Beck.

Unlike volunteer-built homes, community trust homes remain affordable. The community land trust absorbs the highs and lows of the market. The increase or loss in value is kept in the neighborhood. The owners build wealth through equity or forced savings. Beck says this makes neighborhoods more affordable and more stable at all price ranges.

“It perpetuates, essentially, it is subsidizing gentrification. So I don’t believe it is a good stewardship of public money. If we want to invest public taxes into affordable housing, which I think we should, that public investment needs to last,” said 

About a decade ago, the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood area saw 200 new, affordable homes were built to stabilize and revitalize the area. Today fewer than 10 of those homes are owned by the original owners.

The first community land trust and the internal operations of the group are still being worked out. The Old Southside neighborhood would like to have one in place for new development by 2020.  

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