Credit: Amanda Andrews / GPB News
Amid rising costs, Atlanta's developing permanently affordable housing via a land trust model
LISTEN: Since 2009, the Atlanta Land Trust has been working with the mayor’s office to create permanently affordable housing. GPB’s Amanda Andrews attending the groundbreaking ceremony for its latest project.
Buying a house these days is just too expensive for a lot of people. Often, property taxes are increasing costs for residents living in designated affordable housing.
But since 2009, the Atlanta Land Trust has been working with the mayor’s office to create permanently affordable housing. They recently held a groundbreaking ceremony for the latest project in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood.
Community members, leaders from the city of Atlanta and DeKalb County officials spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony about the importance of affordable housing.
“You see the layers that I'm talking about just to get affordable housing for 40 families,” Mayor Andre Dickens said at the ceremony. “We're talking about somewhere around the order of a dozen organizations to pull this off.”
But it all starts with the Atlanta Land Trust. The 40 townhomes under construction in East Lake are the group's latest project.
When Makeisha Robey bought her home with the land trust’s help about four years ago, she said it felt like her only option.
“I really didn't qualify for a lot of the other programs and down payment assistance programs that were out there,” she said. “My income at the time was just too low. I had consistent income. I had worked for a long time. I had money saved, but it just wasn't enough to qualify for the homes that were in that area and in the city in general.”
Amanda Rhein is executive director of the land trust. She said what made Robey’s purchase possible is that Robey only owns her house — not the ground under it.
“We use a dual ownership structure in order to create homes that are permanently affordable,” Rhein said. “So when the Atlanta Land Trust sells a house, we are just selling the house itself and retaining ownership of the underlying land.”
In Atlanta, land value can account for about a quarter of the cost of a home. For a $300,000 home, that could be a $75,000 discount.
When they’re ready to leave, owners are required to sell to another low-income family. Owners get to pocket about 25% of the appreciation in the home in the time they lived there.
Rhein said that balances building wealth for owners against keeping homes affordable.
“So they get a portion of the equity and then are able to use that when they sell the house for a down payment on another home,” she said.
On Dec. 1, 2022, the Atlanta Land Trust held a groundbreaking for 36 townhome units in Atlanta’s Oakland City neighborhood. To qualify to purchase through the land trust, buyers must verify their income is less than 80% of the median income in Atlanta. For a family of four, that’s less than $70,000 a year.
Stewardship Manager Karen Babino has worked as a traditional real estate agent. Now she pairs eligible buyers with the land trust. She said, like many people with her background, initially it was difficult for her to understand the model.
“It works — I had to learn that, but I know it and I'm confident that it works,” Babino said. “I see it. I see people's lives have been changed. You know, by owning a home and learning about estate planning, they have an asset now that they need to protect.”
The Atlanta Land Trust reports that over 60% of their homeowners go on to buy traditional homes after selling their houses. Later this year, the Atlanta Land Trust will break ground on another 40-unit townhome community.