New Portland land trust makes public pitch for affordable housing

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PORTLAND — Leaders of a new effort to create affordable housing in the city are hoping the public will put its trust in their concept.

Members of the Machigonne Community Land Trust will host a 5 p.m. meeting Saturday, May 10, at the East End Community School, 195 North St.

“The event is to bring the community together and build broad base of support,” trust member Jonah Fertig said April 30. “We want to hear the voices and vision. It is a very important starting point.”

The trust leadership includes Fertig, homeless advocate Jim Devine, life skills coach Bekah Hawley, community organizers Rob Korobkin and Rachel Lyn Rumson, and Grace Braley, who has experience in property sales and management.

A primary goal of the meeting is to attract new members who would pay annual dues of $10 to $30, assessed on a sliding economic scale, Fertig said. More members and having some funds on hand will make it easier for the trust to seek grants, and other public and private assistance.

“That is a really important piece of it, that we have become a committed organization,” Fertig said.

New trust members can also vote to elect trust board of directors.

Founded last October, the trust follows a template of land trusts in terms of preserving property. But unlike rural land trusts, which are typically dedicated to open space conservation, the MCLT hopes to preserve developed affordable housing.

“I anticipate an interesting mix of people who share the idea that some affordable housing and related programs would be cool to have in Portland,” Braley said May 1.

How to proceed has not been decided, Fertig said, but the trust can follow models from throughout the country, including the Champlain Land Trust in Burlington, Vermont.

The Champlain Land Trust is the product of a 2006 merger of the Burlington Community Land Trust and Lake Champlain Housing Development Corp., both founded in 1984.

Chris Donnelly, Champlain trust director of community relations and a former Munjoy Hill resident, said the Vermont trust has bought land for affordable housing developments, but its assistance to buyers of existing homes is a primary function.

By providing financing help for working people, based on area income guidelines developed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the trust can give buyers the last boost needed to close a home purchase.

“We don’t go speculatively out looking for homes to purchase,” Donnelly said. “When we have been able to secure funds, we have built new homes.”

With the aid comes the agreement the trust will keep the title and 75 percent of the appreciated value at resale, while the seller gets back what they paid on the mortgage and the remaining 25 percent of appreciated value.

The trust can then assist a new buyer of the home, likely at below the market rate. Donnelly added the assistance was not part of the original role of the trust, but estimated about two-thirds of the homeowners aided have gone on to buy homes on their own.

“People can go shopping on their own and bring a home into the trust because of the assistance,” Donnelly said. “It is a great way to sprinkle, if you will.”

In 30 years, Donnelly said, the trust has provided help to 930 families and the trust has grown to have 540 properties.

Besides financial aid, the trust has also provided education on home buying. He said trust homeowners were 10 times less likely to be foreclosed on during the last recession.

Fertig said input on future steps will be a big part of the meeting, but the guiding principle is already set.

“How can we make land permanently available to workers, to move beyond renting and being at the will of landlords?” he said.

Braley said the lack of affordable housing is evident in Portland, especially on the peninsula.

“Gentrification is happening,” Braley said. “There are parts of Portland where you can see people tearing down something and building something else.”

Braley said she likes what she has learned about the Champlain Land Trust and how it has built its housing stock.

“You got it affordable, you are going to sell it affordable,” she said. “I call it a fair equity formula.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.