In neighborhoods in many areas across the country, aging neighborhoods are being gentrified as more affluent residents or development targets areas. This transformation isn’t always wanted and in some areas, current residents are resisting change.

Land trusts are stepping in, hoping to maintain affordable housing for residents on the verge of being displaced from neighborhoods where some have spent their entire lives.

One example is in Charlotte, where residents in the Enderly Park neighborhood, located in the shadows of Bank of America Stadium are just saying no to real estate investors seeking property owners willing to sell.

Whether they can stop the change that already is underway as changes remake one neighborhood after another in Charlotte is unlikely. New development is making its way to the area as homes and trendy restaurants are edging closer to Enderly Park, a predominantly African-American neighborhood. The redevelopment generally improves housing in the neighborhoods and property values rise, jobs are created and new residents are brought to areas.

But it isn’t occurring without resistance.

In Charlotte, The West Side Community Land Trust, a non-profit organization, wants to ensure that homes in predominately minority ZIP codes have housing that is affordable for people with lower incomes. Organizers hope to raise money to buy homes before the investors do, essentially banking land before prices escalate.

Affordable housing in Enderly Park, Charlotte, NC

Roughly 200 nonprofit community land trusts around the country buy land and build new homes or repair old ones. In a typical arrangement, the buyer owns the house, but the land trust retains the land underneath.

Many land trusts work to keep property values in line in gentrifying neighborhoods and keep homes affordable for future buyers. In this scenario, homeowners effectively agree to build less equity over time and often grants the nonprofit the first rights to buy the house.
The effort can prevent property values from skyrocketing and pricing residents out of their neighborhoods.

Community land trusts do that by owning property under a non-profit, multi-stakeholder, democratic governance model. They are guided by the idea that community control of land, instead of real-estate market investor control, helps keep down the cost of housing.
The model being pursued in Charlotte is operating in other cities where gentrification is occurring.

In Vancouver, the Community Housing Land Trust Foundation is a registered charity created two decades ago by the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC. Under an agreement, Vancouver will lease four city-owned parcels of land to the Land Trust Foundation. It in turn will sub-lease those sites to four partners to develop affordable rental-housing units.

In Columbia, Mo., the city has established the non-profit Community Land Trust, a not-for-profit organization to help build affordable homes for residents who otherwise would not be able to afford purchasing homes. The Community Land Trust maintain land ownership in trust. Qualified buyers purchase the homes and lease the land, instead of buying both.

In real estate circles, the pros and cons of gentrification are always a topic of discussion as it changes the demographics in neighborhoods.

In Charlotte, former warehouses and vacant lots adjacent to uptown are making way for trendy restaurants and pricey homes that rent for as much as $2,600 a month.

This has made neighborhoods near uptown Charlotte a magnet for investors, who can buy homes cheap – usually for less than $100,000 – renovate the properties and flip them for a large profit. In many cases, the homes need expensive repairs or are near foreclosure, making some owners motivated to sell.

Selina Mack, the land trust’s executive director, has used donations and government grants to preserve 200 affordable units in an area in Charlotte’s west end that borders the Duke campus and downtown Durham, which is bustling with new restaurants and bars.

“This is very difficult to do when the area has gentrified or on the brink of gentrification,” Mack, whose organization started in 1987, told the Charlotte Observer. “You can’t stop gentrification. You can only hope to stabilize what you have. We literally have investors going door to door. They are willing to give you $200,000.”

Mack and other supporters acknowledge that land trusts often ask homeowners with little wealth to sacrifice. On the other hand, she said, selling to a land trust allows residents to control what happens in their neighborhoods.

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