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A seldom-used housing model is gaining steam across the country, particularly in communities where tenants are facing higher rents and possible displacement. Newshour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano speaks with housing advocates and residents in California, who are partnering with community land trusts to make their housing affordable in perpetuity. The story is part of our ongoing series, ‘Chasing the Dream: Poverty, Opportunity and Justice in America.’
California is facing a severe housing crisis as rents and the price of homes skyrocket and the population surges.
In July ,the state's legislature passed a package of bills to address housing and homelessness and increase affordable housing. In it was $500 million which nonprofit organizations can use to preserve housing when foreclosure — or risk of foreclosure — bring tenants closer to eviction. These efforts include an affordable housing model — the community land trust — which is gaining steam across the country.
NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano reports from the San Francisco Bay Area.
This story is part of our ongoing series, Chasing the Dream: Poverty, Opportunity and Justice in America.
Jocelyn Foreman moved into this house three years ago. Located in the city of Pinole, it is a 17-minute drive from the two public elementary schools in Berkeley, where she works as a family engagement specialist.
The 51-year-old mother of five, and grandmother of three has struggled with homelessness for years in California's tight housing market, so she made sure to pay her rent every month. She even took a second job.
So in order to live here, I needed to have another source of income. That source of income only allowed me to stay home one night a week.
Literally every other night you were sleeping–
At my client's. I work for, I'm a caregiver in the evening. I was doing 12 hour shifts, six days a week.
But in April of 2019, she got a notice that the house was going up for sale. She didn't know that her landlord missed payments and the house was entering foreclosure.
I was stunned. I was confused because for the one time in my life, I did everything right to the letter, all money transfers went through my bank account. So I had a paper trail for everything, and it was disheartening.
My favorite part was when Joceyln made the decision. Made the decision to stay.
Foreman called her friend Christine Hernandez, who works for the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Hernandez suggested a way to make the house permanently affordable under what's known as a community land trust, in which homes are bought by a nonprofit trust that sells them to low and middle-income buyers at below-market rates.
Community land trusts are often supported from a variety of sources, including federal funding, property donations from local governments, as well as individuals.
In the U.S., nearly 300 communities – two dozen in California – are using land trusts to create and preserve affordable housing, especially in urban areas where housing costs are high.
Oakland's Community Land Trust, known as "Oak CLT", was formed in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 foreclosure crisis. Steve King is the Executive Director.
The crisis was particularly acute in Oakland, and very specifically in what we call the flatland neighborhoods of Oakland, which are the predominant lower income neighborhoods and historic black and brown neighborhoods in the city. There were 13,000 foreclosures in the city. That equates to roughly one in five owner occupied homes. So two out of every 10 homeowners went through foreclosure and lost their homes.
In its early years, Oak CLT used federal funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to rehabilitate a group of 16 vacant foreclosed single-family homes. Then it sold the homes at below market price to residents making less than 80 percent of the area median income and required that any resale of the homes be subject to the same income restrictions, effectively taking the property off the speculative housing market.
The buildings that are on the land are owned by the residents that occupy them. So it's split title and it's a form of shared ownership where residents and the community share the rights, responsibilities, risks and rewards of ownership in a more equitable way.
This is Tyson, the old guy.
Hi Tyson! Hey guy, hey sweetie.
In 2013, Shamar Theus who was working for a nonprofit, bought one of Oak CLT's homes. This particular house, formerly vacant and blighted, was part of a rehab project with Oakland's Youth Employment Partnership, which gives teens and young adults job training.
They made it so that it was really accessible in the beginning when I first purchased my house to be able to get into home ownership as a first time home buyer. And what was already starting to become a pretty overheated market. It's definitely given me stability and allowed me to stay in my community.
Oak CLT not only stewards affordable housing, 50 units in all, it also recently acquired a building with two residential units, as well as a worker-owned cafe called Hasta Muerte.
Matt Gereghty is one of the co-operative's members.
You know, you have guaranteed uh fixed long-term overhead, which is invaluable to both residents and small businesses like us. Co-ops usually face a few more hurdles than traditional businesses at the start, to you know, rise up to becoming sustainable just because, you know, there's a lot more moving parts. The long- term residents upstairs are, you know, guaranteed their housing as well, and so they will have the option of owning their own units as we move through the process.
In recent years, Oak CLT has become focused on helping tenants who are facing displacement.
I've been living in Oakland for 20 years. I've been living in this house for about 10 years.
Norma Sanchez was one. In 2017, her landlord nearly doubled her rent, which she couldn't afford.
He gave us only three months. In three months we had to pay double the rent and if not, if we didn't make the payment, then obviously we had to vacate the house.
With the help of the tenant advocacy group Alliance for Californians for Community Empowerment, Sanchez organized seven other neighbors who also had huge rent increases from the same landlord.
In 2018, Oak CLT purchased three of those homes, allowing Sanchez's family and two other families to stay in the neighborhood.
Across the bay, in 2017, residents of this 40-unit building in San Francisco's Tenderloin district were facing huge rent increases. The building was not under rent control.
Lorenzo Listana is a community organizer for the residents.
Lorenzo Listana, community organizer: A lot of people here are seniors, you know, working families, housing is important because they work just right in this area.
After protesting the rent increases, tenants are now working with the San Francisco Community Land Trust to purchase the building. They have raised $1.4 million in equity and are now crowdfunding part of the purchase. The goal is to turn the building into a housing cooperative, giving tenants an opportunity to have ownership stake.
State Sen. Nancy Skinner:
We want to maximize the owner-occupant home ownership in California.
State Senator Nancy Skinner, who represents California's 9th district which includes much of the East Bay, authored SB 1079, passed last year. The bill ends the bulk buying of homes at foreclosure auctions that was widely seen in the last foreclosure crisis.
What they would do is go to the foreclosure auction, which allows you to buy multiple homes in a single bid. You have to pay cash. So who else can compete? After that foreclosure crisis, we saw the lowest number of homeowners in our black community in our Latinx community drop down to numbers like that we hadn't seen since the 1970s.
How are foreclosure auctions different now?
Now every home has to be bid on separately. You could still have an auction with 50 homes, but each bid has to be separate.
The bill also gives tenants a 45-day window to get financing to purchase their building with the help of a nonprofit, such as a community land trust.
State Sen. Nancy Skinner: Then there's the hope for a person who doesn't have the same kind of means to be able to be a homeowner and share that American dream.
In Pinole this spring, Jocelyn Foreman became the first person to test SB 1079. She partnered with the nonprofit Northern California Land Trust, the state's longest running land trust, to attempt to purchase her home at the foreclosure auction. She had 45 days to exceed the highest bid on her home, which was $600,000 thousand dollars.
Foreman's friends and her employer Berkeley Public Schools started Jocelyn's Corner, successfully crowdfunding over $177,000 for the downpayment and needed renovations for the house.
With that seed funding, the Northern California CLT secured a loan to buy the house, allowing Foreman to stay. And now she has the option to purchase the home at an affordable price.
I didn't have a dime. I didn't have a dime. I had no savings. What I did was hard. It was very hard, but I legit stood on the shoulders of my community. And what I like to say is, you know, this was my community's opportunity to give back to me for years of service and everybody doesn't have that.
Recognizing that very few people can raise money like Foreman did, Skinner led efforts to designate funding in the latest state budget for a newly formed Foreclosure Intervention Housing Preservation Program.
So we were able to secure $500 million to help fund foreclosed homeowners, renters, land trusts so that they could compete in those auction bids and try to buy foreclosed homes.
In October, renovations finished on Jocelyn Foreman's house and she was able to move back in with her twin 20-year-old daughters and grandson.
My daughters went to prom from here. I had my first Christmas with all of my children in here. My first grandson came home in here.
What do you see the future of this house being? Do you want them to live in this house for years to come?
I plan to live for a long time, but when that time comes, I know that my family will be rooted. So for that, I'm thankful.
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Ivette Feliciano shoots, produces and reports on camera for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Before starting with NewsHour in 2013, she worked as a one-person-band correspondent for the News 12 Networks, where she won a New York Press Club Award for her coverage of Super Storm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in 2012. Prior to that, Ivette was the Associate Producer of Latin American news for Worldfocus, a nationally televised, daily international news show seen on Public Television. While at Worldfocus, Ivette served as the show’s Field Producer and Reporter for Latin America, covering special reports on the Mexican drug war as well as a 5-part series out of Bolivia, which included an interview with President Evo Morales. In 2010, she co-produced a documentary series on New York’s baseball history that aired on Channel Thirteen. Ivette holds a Master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in broadcast journalism.
Laura Fong shoots and produces stories for PBS NewsHour Weekend on a wide range of topics, including U.S. politics, education, the arts and urban transit. She also covers breaking news for the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts. Before joining NewsHour Weekend, Laura worked on the first three seasons of the CNN documentary series "Inside Man" with Morgan Spurlock. Through Teach for America, Laura taught first grade for two years in Houston. She has a B.A. in electronic media from the University of Oregon.
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