CLTs – Not a Medieval Concept

This is the third in a series of blog posts from Cornerstone Partnership’s CHIP grantees. They’re reflecting on their experiences seeking to implement best practices, build capacity and scale their long-term affordable homeownership programs. This post is from Suzanne Cabrera of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County, who leads the South Florida Community Land Trust Network. The SoFL CLT Network is a consortium CHIP grantee, focusing on scaling and coordinating the work of 7 partners across 3 counties in South Florida.

“This sounds like a throw back to Feudal times in medieval England!”criticized one resident during the public comments section of the commission meeting. Another resident didn’t help our cause when he added it was like a modern day version of sharecropping. I had guessed it would be difficult to properly explain the Community Land Trust (CLT) model to this audience in South Florida, but even I was floored by these comments.

Medieval-houses1-295x300When I was first introduced to the CLT model it was easy for me to comprehend. I was probably one of the few people who lived in a home we “owned” on land we “leased” more than 40 years ago. Our lease was for conservation purposes and in an area of Northern New York close to Vermont, so the mind set and attitude was different. However, South Florida would present a whole new challenge in our efforts to provide this very successful model for creating affordable housing options. Thankfully, after 10 years of effort and a whole lot of collaboration and planning, our South Florida CLT Network partners steward more than 320 ownership and rental units in the South Florida area.

Other areas in Florida are also sharing our success, which was very evident at the convening of the 27th Annual Statewide Affordable Housing Conference held the second week of September in Orlando, Florida. Every year we have a chance to get together and share our “war stories” at the Monday afternoon caucuses, a special two and a half hour session carved out to talk about challenges and lay out a strategy for the coming year. Last year, it was the lending crisis, and the year before, we tackled a pesky issue of how property appraisers were valuing land trust properties. This year, we focused on fundraising and the need to become independent from local government support to survive long term.

The conference also continued to nurture the CLT model by providing an introductory course on CLTs and another more advanced session so that seasoned organizations around the state coulf compare notes and discuss issues facing their local programs organizations. The challenges seem to change from year to year, but one thing remains constant – the dedication to this model which has brought homeownership to so many deserving families throughout Florida.

We also focused on a few goals for the coming year, including:

  • Lending Support – The South Florida CLT Network held the first Lender Forum and produced a Lender Guide which will be shared with the entire state.
  • Knowledge – This year we decided to revise the Florida CLT Primer – the ultimate “how to” guide for CLT’s and the intricacies of operating in Florida.
  • Data – Tiffany Eng from HomeKeeper made a presentation on the importance of telling our story with good data. Many of our CLT’s are at a perfect stage to start entering the data and several have grants from the National CLT Network.

Finally, we shared stories about the families who have benefitted from our efforts: the blind mother of three who had her first home complete with a fence for a guide dog, and the Gulf War veteran who was able to call something other than a tent in Iraq home. In doing so, we armed ourselves for another year of battles with increasing prices, local opposition, a restrictive lending environment and all the other issues that make our efforts so challenging but none less important. So, in the next commission meeting where I am told I am “stealing” from homeowners by robbing their equity or hearing other misconceptions about CLTs, I will have the strength and footing to get up and say, “Let me tell you about a little girl who finally got to paint her room a color that she always wanted, bright purple, because her family moved into a home of their very own last year.”

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