Councilmember introduces bill to remove barriers to homeownership

A collage of photos taken at an event outside Savannah Apartments, which were bought in collaboration with the Douglass Community Land Trust in 2019. Photo courtesy of Coy McKinney.

A bill introduced to the D.C. Council in February could increase homeownership for low-income families.

Known as the “Community Land Trust’s Access and Homeowner Support Amendment Act of 2023,” the bill, if passed, would allow community nonprofit groups early access to purchase multi-family and single-family homes.

Community land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit, community-controlled models for permanent affordable housing that function by separating the cost of the land from the cost of the residence on the land.

In other words, these organizations are community-run, managed by a board of directors made up of residents, community members and industry professionals. They rely on homeowners who agree to sell their homes for a restricted price in order to keep them affordable. The result is permanently affordable housing and retail space, which are then developed to fit the needs of the community. 

For example, in 2019, tenants of Savannah Apartments collaborated with the Douglass Community Land Trust in D.C. to buy and renovate the apartment block, rather than sell it to private developers.

Advocates for affordable housing have been pushing for the expansion of CLTs in the District since 2016, when the 11 Street Bridge Park developers began considering a CLT as a way to avoid pricing people out of the neighborhoods surrounding the elevated park. The movement has only expanded since then, with grassroot organizations like SW D.C. Action rallying in favor of expanding the Douglass CLT into Ward 6.

The legislation would incorporate CLTs into the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Assistance Act (TOPA), a law that requires tenant groups to have the first opportunity to buy the building they live in. Under this structure, CLTs would be third in line to purchase TOPA-eligible properties, most of which are multi-family homes, after tenants and the District, according to the bill.

The legislation would also give CLTs early access to purchase properties on the tax sale list before they become available to private buyers. 

Although proponents for CLTs like Coy McKinney are optimistic about the bill, they worry that it doesn’t address the most important needs of CLTs. The biggest issue facing CLTs wasn’t access to more land, but funds, said McKinney, a representative on the board of the Douglass CLT and a lead organizer for SW D.C. Action.

“The bill is great, but it doesn’t address the bigger issue of how would a community land trust then have the funds to acquire these properties,” McKinney said.

McKinney also expressed concern that the bill’s definition of a CLT is too loose and may allow for-profit developers to benefit and use the bill to acquire more property under the guise of being a CLT, even if “their heart really isn’t in what a community land trust is about.” This could present a threat to other CLTs, like the Douglass CLT, as the model works best when it doesn’t have to compete for already scarce resources.

Despite this, McKinney said he was hopeful about the bill and that it’s a step in the right direction for CLTs.

“If people really want to put some meat behind the saying that housing should be a right, then this allows us to do this, allows housing to be treated as a right,” McKinney said.

Issues |Housing|Tenants

Region |Washington DC

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