My Changing Neighborhood - Episode 7: The land held by trust
Brian Steffan-Szittai lives in Ohio City, a neighborhood that — like my own neighborhood of Gordon Square — has boomed over the past decade or so.
His century-old cottage boasts blue-green siding, red stair rails and a decal of Bart Simpson peeking out the front window. "My security system," Brian jokes, pointing to the cartoon figure.
With its quirk and history, his house resembles a lot of others in Ohio City.
But there's an important difference. The property is part of the Near West Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that owns the land beneath Brian's house and moderates how much it rises in value.
"So I pay a conventional mortgage for the house, and the Land Trust still has title to the land," Brian explains. "The goal is if and when I sell, it's to another income-qualified person who needs an affordable house. I can't just go and sell it on the free market."
Another wrinkle: When Brian does sell, he can recoup only 15 percent of any value above what he originally paid for the house. The rest of the profit goes back into the Near West Land Trust, so it can keep either building or renovating houses that remain affordable no matter how much surrounding property values rise.
Brian says at the time he bought his land trust house, in 2003, he was mostly grateful for the chance to buy a house he could afford, in a neighborhood he liked, on his salary as leader of the nonprofit InterReligious Task Force on Central America. But he also loves what land trusts represent, "that housing does not have to be an independent, commodified thing, that there can be other models," he says.
The Near West Land Trust plans to build or renovate 70 more houses over the next few years in the gentrifying neighborhoods of Tremont and Ohio City, with Gordon Square (my own neighborhood) possibly to follow. The small scale of the program is unlikely to slow the pace of gentrification, according to Ben Trimble of the nonprofit Ohio City Inc., which co-manages the land trust. But it will provide dozens of lower-income families a way to stay in the neighborhood long-term, he says.
"We don't have nearly enough land or resources to do, frankly, what we need to do in this neighborhood," Trimble says. "But we'll try to do it on every parcel that we can."
The land trust is just one of several strategies that Cleveland and other cities are using to try to keep neighborhoods accessible to everyone.
In this episode of "Inside the Bricks: My Changing Neighborhood," we take a look at those strategies, including everything from lease-purchase houses to a property investment program that costs less than a Netflix subscription.