On a gray December morning, Chanel stood in front of her new house in Church Hill, the keys to her home held proudly in her hand. Not only was buying her first home a milestone for her, but the occasion also represented a landmark for the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust (MWCLT), with Chanel, who asked that her last name be withheld for professional reasons, as the first homeowner in its new model of affordable housing for Richmond.
The MWCLT was established in 2016 to provide perpetually affordable homes to low- and moderate-income families in Richmond. Here’s how it works: In coordination with other housing nonprofits, MWCLT helps to build or rehabilitate single-family homes. The land trust retains ownership of the land beneath the house so that it can be sold below market value. Each year, the homeowner pays a modest lease to the land trust, and when they eventually sell the house, the homeowner agrees to pocket only half of its appreciation value. The remaining equity stays in the house, making it affordable to the next buyer, who then agrees to the same terms — thus ensuring that the house remains affordable in perpetuity.
To qualify, a prospective buyer can earn only 50 to 115 percent of the area median income (for a family of four, that’s $61,900 to $89,000 a year) and must agree to the unique conditions of owning a land-trust home.
“We have a staggering affordable housing challenge [in Richmond],” says Laura Lafayette, chair of the MWCLT and CEO of the Richmond Association of Realtors. “Thousands of households struggle and pay way too much in housing costs.” With the federal government less committed to solving the problem and Virginia facing its own obstacles, Lafayette says a community land trust is a way not only to create affordable housing, but also to encourage inclusive wealth-building in a community.