Community Land Trusts Make Housing Affordable

Meidan “Abby” Lin poses in the kitchen of her apartment on Feb. 9, 2022, in Boston’s Chinatown. Lin and her husband bought the unit with help from the Chinatown Community Land Trust, whose goal is to stabilize the community through affordable housing, ownership of land, control of public lands like parks, and the preservation of cultural and historical sights. Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman

Community land trusts have a long history of helping people afford a home. In a time of skyrocketing housing prices, that’s more important than ever.

By Alexander Thompson and Jocelyn Yang

Life in America was not easy. “It was crowded,” Meidan “Abby” Lin says.

In March 2016, Lin; her husband, Yin Zheng; their young son, Yuchen; and Zheng’s mother left Fuzhou, China, a bustling coastal city at the mouth of the Min River, for another port half a world away on the Charles River in Boston.

They shared their first apartment in Boston’s Chinatown with another family. During nights in that cramped space, Lin started dreaming of a place she could call her own. But Boston’s soaring real estate prices seemed to put that dream out of reach. Zheng works at a restaurant. Lin works at home.

Then, a friend told Lin about the Chinatown Community Land Trust. The organization was just getting its start, but maybe it could help.

The group was selling apartments at discount prices, and Lin jumped on the waitlist. But there was only one apartment big enough for her family. “I didn’t think we were able to get it,” she says. All she could do was hope.

Community land trusts, many of them recently founded, are pursuing a novel solution to the nation’s affordable-housing crisis: They’re buying their own properties to preserve them as affordable housing in perpetuity and give residents more say over what happens in quickly changing neighborhoods. 

That mission has gained new urgency over the past year as homeowners reap the rewards of a red-hot real estate market while renters are hit with steep rent hikes, deepening the divide between the housing haves and have-nots. Estimates show home values in U.S. metropolitan areas increased a record-breaking 18.8% in 2021. Rents were up by 19.3% over the same period.

“As neighborhoods change and gentrify really fast, the idea of having community control and having more say about how neighborhoods are changing and who’s going to be able to live in the neighborhood over time, from an affordability perspective, I think becomes really important,” says Beth Sorce, who works with community land trusts nationwide at the Grounded Solutions Network, an affordable-housing advocacy group.

Read the full article here.

This story is courtesy of Yes! Magazine and originally appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and is republished here as part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

JOCELYN YANG is a senior at Emerson College pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, with a minor in Business Studies. Originally from Beijing, China, Jocelyn’s journalism aspiration started with her journey to the U.S. since high school, where she wrote a series of columns with her observations on U.S.-China cultural and social differences at a local newspaper. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

ALEXANDER THOMPSON is a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor covering national news from Boston. Before coming to the Monitor, Alexander worked for local papers in Ohio and Massachusetts, including The Canton Repository. He also covered education nationwide for the National Catholic Reporter for a year. A fluent French speaker, Alexander spent a stint reporting for L’Observateur, Senegal’s largest private daily, in Dakar.
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