Resident-ownership of multi-family properties through the Community Land Trust model is a means of stabilizing affordable housing, in perpetuity, for low-income and working class families. The San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT) is a membership-based, nonprofit organization whose mission is to create permanently affordable, resident-owned housing for low- and moderate-income people in San Francisco. Our vision is to preserve San Francisco's diminishing affordable housing stock by acquiring and converting rental buildings into permanently affordable, limited equity housing cooperatives - an alternative form of homeownership - through which the current residents become owners of the building, while the Land Trust maintains ownership of the land. By separating the building from the land, the units become affordable while SFCLT maintains the affordability requirements in perpetuity. SFCLT's unique advantage is its ability to target mid-size buildings that other affordable housing developers are unable to make financially feasible.
We believe that cooperative homeownership is a high leverage strategy for stabilizing affordable housing for low-income communities at risk of displacement or eviction. Despite San Francisco's strong tenants rights and rent control, the high cost real estate market has left many small- and mid-size rental buildings vulnerable to evictions when landlords decide they don't want to be landlords anymore. On their own, residents do not have much negotiation power, but when organized and with the support of the Land Trust, they can negotiate the acquisition of the building before it is sold on the open market. Before acquiring any property SFCLT collaborates with community-based tenant organizations to ensure that a majority of the tenants are organized and desire cooperative homeownership. The Land Trust secures the financing for acquisition and conversion, then provides the education and technical assistance to residents throughout the process to ensure long-term sustainability of the resident association and the property. At a practical asset administration and property management level, the Land Trust model of cooperative homeownership is essentially like a conventional homeowners association or tenancy in common.
The Land Trust model also enables a longer term economic revitalization and community-building strategy for low-income communities that have experienced disinvestment and physical deterioration. Once a family has secured an affordable, stable housing payment, they are able to focus on paying down debt, building credit, starting a small business, or saving for education or retirement. Land Trust affordable housing units enable their resident-owners to enjoy not only the benefits of an affordable home, with the possibility of gaining indexed equity appreciation that creates a long term "nest egg" and asset base, but also the benefits of a democratic structure for self-management. This creates a stable and capable community-building base that can extend beyond just property ownership to a more complete opportunity for resident empowerment. The process of cooperatively managing a building provides a starting point for engagement in the larger community and civic affairs.
The San Francisco Land Trust serves all low - and moderate-income neighborhoods in San Francisco, with particular focus on Chinatown, Western Addition, South of Market, Mission, Bayview, and Excelsior. All of these neighborhoods experience high levels of ethnic diversity, low ownership rates (for example, less than 20% of South of Market residents own their housing unit, while the neighborhood is rapidly being built up with 1000s of market-rate and luxury condos), and majority of income levels below 80% of HUD's Area Median Income (AMI). San Francisco's overall homeownership rate (approximately 38%) lags far behind the national average of 68 percent, leaving the majority of low- and moderate-income residents vulnerable to increasing rents, economic insecurity and the ever-present threat of eviction, and unable to participate in the process of family asset development as a means of economic mobility.
In 2006 SFCLT acquired its first project -- 53 Columbus Avenue in Chinatown, a mixed-use property that is home to 21 households, all of whom are Chinese-American families earning less than 80% AMI. Since 1999 the residents had been fighting an impending eviction and displacement by their landlord. With the help of Chinatown Community Development Corporation and Asian Law Caucus the residents were able to organize and fight the eviction. ALC asked the Land Trust to join the effort by providing a viable alternative ownership structure, and since 2006 SFCLT has collaborated with CCDC, ALC and Asian Neighborhood Design on the project. The building's resident association is the final partner in the project, as resident participation is core to the Land Trust's homeownership model. After rehabilitation is complete ALC will move into the ground floor commercial space, thereby bringing this valuable community resource back into the Chinatown neighborhood.
SFCLT 2009 program goals are as follows:
- Continue expanding the Land Trust's portfolio by creating at least 13 additional new low-income homeowners and units in San Francisco
- Develop a home buyer training program for successful homeownership and property management
- Create partnerships with private developers to leverage more low-income cooperative ownership housing through the City's Inclusionary Housing Policy
- Expand community outreach and SFCLT membership