The Lawrenceville Community Land Trust

Few neighborhoods within the City of Pittsburgh have seen the level of reinvestment and growth that Lawrenceville has enjoyed over the past decade. Median home sale prices are rising, our streets are safer, and the local business district is becoming a nationally recognized destination. However, these improvements have not benefitted all Lawrenceville residents equally. In fact, when it comes to our real estate market, the benefits have generally accrued to a handful of individuals and developers, while long-time residents, senior citizens, and young families find it increasingly difficult to find safe, affordable housing in Lawrenceville.

In the last decade, a total of 10 affordable housing units have been created in a neighborhood with 4,700 occupied housing units. In 2015, Lawrenceville Corporation (LC) and Lawrenceville United (LU) commissioned a comprehensive housing survey of current and former residents, which yielded over 400 responses. Of the respondents who are currently renting in the neighborhood, 90% indicated that they would prefer to own a home in the neighborhood AND indicated that housing prices are the primary or secondary reason they have not purchased a home. Additionally, 85% of non-residents indicated that they would like to move to Lawrenceville, but are unable to afford home prices or rents.

To be clear: Lawrenceville is experiencing a housing crisis. The current housing market has eliminated opportunities for low and moderate income families to access homeownership in Lawrenceville. The first rung of homeownership, and the inter-generational wealth it can create, is out of reach for these families.

We believe that we’ve found a solution: the Lawrenceville Community Land Trust.

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit initiatives governed by a board of CLT residents, community members, and public representatives that provide permanently affordable housing opportunities. CLTs exist in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The key to a CLT is separating the value of land and the improvements that sit on the land (the home). A nonprofit organization (in this case, LC) holds permanent title to the land and sells the home. The nonprofit and homeowner enter into a ground lease for a nominal fee, which allows the homeowner the right to occupy and use the land. At the time of purchase, a formula is agreed upon that sets a ceiling on the maximum resale price of the home. This model guarantees that the CLT is always at the table when the house is sold, ensuring that the home passes from one income qualified homeowner to another. While typical subsidies for affordable housing, such as second deferred mortgages, can create affordability for a decade or so, the CLT model creates permanent affordability, preserving the initial subsidy in perpetuity.

The CLT model limits homeowner equity in order to ensure long-term affordability—a typical trade-off as every dollar of equity is gained in exchange for a dollar of affordability. However, CLT homeownership still builds equity. CLT homes represent this first rung in the ladder of homeownership and the Lawrenceville Corporation seeks to build the ladder!

To accomplish this, our organization is initiating the first phase of the CLT. This project is the first “big-splash” implementation of the wildly successful community planning process that created the AIA award-winning Upper Lawrenceville Community Plan.

Currently, we are requesting proposals from qualified professionals for the design of up to 8 new construction, for-sale, single-family homes and 1 total rehab of an existing single-family home.

This project will create the first community land trust (CLT) in the City of Pittsburgh. Lawrenceville Corporation’s CLT initiative is a permanently affordable housing, equity-building, and community stabilizing initiative that will serve as a model for emerging neighborhood real estate markets throughout the region.

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