Community Land Trusts in Atlanta, Georgia: A Central Server Model
An innovation in the community land trust (CLT) concept has been introduced in Atlanta, Georgia that is reshaping assistance for low-income homeownership across the United States. Created in December 2009, the Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative (ALTC) acts as a hybrid CLT; it functions not only as an independent, citywide land trust, but also as a “central server” to neighborhood organizations. As a CLT, ALTC has helped preserve the affordability of 3 units at the Lofts at Reynoldstown Crossing, and as a central server, ALTC has helped form 3 CLTs in 7 neighborhoods that are preserving the affordability of 118 housing units.
BeltLine Redevelopment Generates Need to Preserve Affordability
ALTC grew out of the need to preserve affordability in neighborhoods near the Atlanta BeltLine, a comprehensive revitalization effort undertaken in Atlanta and one of the country’s most wide-ranging urban redevelopment and mobility projects. The BeltLine is a redevelopment of 22 miles of defunct railroad line and surrounding underutilized lands that encircle the city core. The project includes more than 1,100 acres of brownfield remediation and more than 1,300 acres of planned parkland. When completed, a 33-mile network of trails and a light rail system will connect housing — including 5,600 affordable units — and commercial areas in 45 neighborhoods.
A local study found that the redevelopment had caused an increase in housing prices in low-income BeltLine neighborhoods. “There was an escalation in prices,” says Tony Pickett, executive director of ALTC, “and a realization that people would be priced out…because of property values and property taxes.” This increase in housing costs prompted the Atlanta Housing Association of Neighborhood-Based Developers, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the BeltLine Partnership, and other entities to look into options to preserve affordability around the BeltLine, resulting in the formation of ALTC.
ATLC’s Hybrid Model: Citywide CLT and Central Server
ALTC is a citywide CLT that helps provide homeownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income earners. Typically, a CLT retains ownership of the underlying land when it sells a house to a low- or moderate-income family, which reduces the cost of the home and allows homeowners to benefit from equity appreciation when they sell the house. The CLT’s ownership of the land ensures that the house will remain affordable over time, even when resold. As an independent CLT, ALTC helped preserve three units at the Lofts at Reynoldstown Crossing, which were sold to police officers and a teacher and will remain affordable housing in perpetuity. “Our goal is to achieve permanent affordable housing at a large scale,” Pickett says of ALTC. “The idea is to go in and purchase properties before redevelopment and reposition these properties to be permanently affordable.”
The second part of ALTC’s hybrid form, the central server, allows the organization to provide technical assistance to community development corporations (CDC) and other neighborhood groups interested in starting a CLT. ALTC’s initial three-year organizational goals included the formation of at least two neighborhood CLTs. ALTC has already surpassed this goal by helping to form three CLTs,and Pickett anticipates that ALTC will help form more CLTs and preserve more affordable units in the near future. “We’re looking at a way to reverse the systemic blight that’s existed [in BeltLine area neighborhoods] and look at ourselves as a catalyst for reversing that trend,” said Pickett. In addition to offering technical assistance, ALTC educates policymakers and advocates on behalf of neighborhood CLTs and offers legal and real estate development services to community CLTs.
Beyond Atlanta: The Promise of the Central Server Model
A principal reason for ALTC’s success is that, in acting as the region’s central server, it has assumed the role of steward of Atlanta’s CLTs, providing vital resources to smaller neighborhood organizations. Although this model is innovative, “Atlanta is not the only place where multiple CLTs have organized,” says nationally renowned CLT expert John E. Davis of Burlington Associates. “Other places where this is happening include Rhode Island, Montana, southeast Florida, Essex County in New Jersey, and New Orleans.”
According to Davis, who served in an advisory role during the formation of ALTC, Atlanta’s central server model is beneficial because it enables the state, region, or city to effectively balance responsibilities and administrative capacities of the central organization with those of the neighborhood organization. Davis also states that the ALTC central server model provides a solution for many smaller CLTs struggling with managing the administrative costs of post-purchase stewardship, including promoting building maintenance, preventing foreclosures, and preserving affordability: “I think the housing bubble has taught any CDC, CLT, or Habitat for Humanity affiliate that it’s important to stay in the deal, to backstop for security. The whole concern for post-purchase stewardship is driving this conversation.”