How Bernie Sanders Made Burlington Affordable
Slate.com recently published an article on how Senator Bernie Sanders supported the creation of the Burlington Community Land Trust (now known as Champlain Housing Trust) during his time as mayor of Burlington, which helped to improve housing affordability in the area. Below is an excerpt:
Bob Robbins bought his home in 1995 amid a bout of long-term unemployment. Living with his wife and two kids in a rundown rental in Burlington, Vermont, he wanted to stabilize the family’s housing before his children started kindergarten. Prospects seemed bleak. The family’s savings had dwindled after his unemployment insurance gave out. But in 1993 Robbins saw a newspaper advertisement for something called the Burlington Community Land Trust. He visited its offices and learned about its generous grants for low-income home ownership. The innovative offer would significantly lower the price by allowing the couple to purchase only the house, while the trust paid for the land it sat on. Within two years, his family owned a home in a small town just to the east of the city. The Robbins family bought its home through a conventional realtor and a commercial bank while also entering a covenant with the land trust to lease the land upon their home sits upon. This reduced the costs of their mortgage and down payment substantially. They’re far from alone. Across the land trust’s portfolio today, there are about 565 other homes that enjoy similar terms, not to mention 2,100 rental and cooperative units. Half of these holdings are located within the city of Burlington itself, which had a total of 16,897 housing units as of 2010, meaning that about 7.6 percent of the stock sits on the nonprofit’s land. “We don’t understand why housing isn’t done this way everywhere,” says Robbins, who says the cheaper mortgage allowed his family to save money for college and retirement that otherwise would have gone toward housing. “It’s just such a logical thing to have land owned by a community and the house be your private property to do with as you wish. We’ve just had a terrific life here so far because of it.” While mayor of Burlington in the 1980s, the democratic-socialist senator and current contender for the Democratic presidential nomination was an early champion of community land trusts. Today, the organization whose creation he made possible—now called the Champlain Housing Trust—is the largest and most influential of its type in the nation. Community land trusts are nonprofit organizations, with a board composed of representatives of the public, the local government, and the tenants, that obtain land and either develop it themselves or lease it to developers. The trust then removes its holdings from the private market, usually through 99-year ground leases and pre-emptive purchase requirements that limit how much the house can be sold for. Community land trust boosters argue that this not only ensures permanent affordability, but allows the organization to intercede in the case of, say, a foreclosure. An oft-cited study by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy showed that, as of 2010, homeowners within a land trust were 10 times less likely to default on their homes than their private-market counterparts.
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