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2018-05-16 / Real Estate

Land trust to aid county revitalization efforts

BY JIM McCONNELL SENIOR WRITER


Laura Lafayette, chair of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, says the nonprofit’s primary goal is to create stable, affordable housing. 
ASH DANIEL Laura Lafayette, chair of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, says the nonprofit’s primary goal is to create stable, affordable housing. ASH DANIEL County leaders have embraced a unique development partnership they hope will create quality affordable housing and provide a much-needed boost for Chesterfield’s aging, less affluent neighborhoods.

The Board of Supervisors approved an allocation of $500,000 in federal grant funding from the county’s fiscal year 2019 budget for the nonprofit Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, which will use the subsidy to purchase nine residential properties in northeastern Chesterfield and either rehabilitate the existing homes or demolish them and build new structures.

“I love it. I’m excited. We are looking at creative and innovative solutions – not just doing things the way we’ve always done them, but doing them better,” said Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland.

The county’s new Community Enhancement Department is working with the land trust to target properties within a 2.7-square-mile area bordered by Chippenham Parkway, U.S. Route 360 and Turner and Jessup roads.

According to Kirk Turner, who heads up the department, that area has a “high revitalization need, older housing inventory and older facilities, as well as a heavy concentration of rental units.”

“Part of it is about affordable housing. Part of it is giving people their first opportunity at home ownership, having inclusive wealth-building and mixed-income communities, but really key to this effort in Chesterfield is the stabilization of neighborhoods,” said Laura Lafayette, chief executive of the Richmond Association of Realtors, and chair of the land trust. That’s a far different objective from the one the land trust is currently pursuing in Richmond, where it is acquiring properties to combat the effects of gentrification on four neighborhoods: Church Hill, Carver, Randolph and Southern Barton Heights. As those communities become increasingly popular among young, affluent homebuyers, rapidly rising property values are forcing out many longtime residents. The land trust purchases homes and either renovates or rebuilds them, then sells them to people with more moderate incomes. The Maggie Walker land trust is one of more than 40 currently operating across the country, but one of only two in Virginia. The other is based in Charlottesville.

“The purpose of a land trust is to create housing that is affordable in perpetuity,” Lafayette said.

It’s able to do that by maintaining ownership of the land underneath the rehabilitated or rebuilt homes it sells. That means a new homeowner has to pay only for the residence, plus $1 monthly as part of a transferrable 99-year “ground lease” with the land trust.

While the homeowner has full rights and utilization of the property, the land trust’s board of directors must approve any significant changes – such as construction of a swimming pool or a renovation that adds to the home’s square footage.

In the event of a resale, the homeowner and land trust equally share in any appreciation of the value of the structure. But the land trust removes both its equity stake and the cost of the land from that transaction, keeping the home affordable for another moderate-income buyer.

According to Lafayette, about a third of the land trust’s board of directors eventually will be composed of its homeowners, “so there’s a self-governance model built in.”

“This is about empowering our owners to have a strong say in the overall direction of the land trust,” she said.

Turner noted the land trust also “gives people the tools to be successful” by providing first-time homebuyer training and regular monitoring to ensure that they are keeping up with routine property maintenance.

“It’s all part of the puzzle, trying to encourage investment and improve the quality of life in our older communities,” he added.

The land trust, which was authorized by the Virginia General Assembly, is largely funded by several charitable foundations and private companies.

Turner acknowledged its leaders weren’t necessarily interested in Chesterfield until Community Enhancement staff invited them to meet and explore potential areas of opportunity – particularly in neighborhoods along Chippenham Parkway, the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor and the village of Ettrick, where there are significant pockets of poverty and aging rental properties owned by absentee landlords.

The local government now is focused on lifting the collective fortunes of those neighborhoods, which were all but ignored during the residential building boom in Chesterfield’s western suburbs that began in the early 1980s.

Lafayette told the Board of Supervisors earlier this year that its decision to allocate part of the county’s fiscal year 2019 federal Community Development Block Grant funding to the land trust has spurred Henrico County officials to consider doing the same.

“It’s historic for the county to buy into something so radically different from anything we’ve ever done,” Clover Hill District Supervisor Chris Winslow said. “If this is successful, it could be a way to plant seeds for creating owner-occupied neighborhoods.” ¦

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