Three local community land trusts are expanding their efforts in Southwest Washington to address the region’s affordable housing crisis.
Vancouver-based Second Step Housing and Evergreen Habitat for Humanity and Portland-based Proud Ground are increasing the number of affordable housing units in Clark County and working to ensure those units remain affordable for low-income families.
Community land trusts are nonprofit organizations that acquire, manage and develop land for a variety of purposes. Some, such as Columbia Land Trust, acquire land to limit commercial development and preserve open spaces. Others acquire land for the production and stewardship of affordable housing.
After a trust acquires land for affordable housing, it maintains ownership of it permanently, while prospective homeowners enter a long-term, renewable lease instead of a traditional sale. If the homeowner decides to sell, the family earns a portion of the increased property value, and the rest is kept by the trust, preserving the affordability for future low-income families.
Community land trusts aim to provide low-income families the opportunity to build equity through homeownership and ensure these residents are not displaced by land speculation and gentrification.
The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, a grant-making organization that seeks to disrupt the cycle of intergenerational poverty, provided grants for Second Step Housing, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity and Proud Ground to help them build and maintain affordable housing in Clark County.
Here’s how those organizations are addressing the region’s affordable housing crisis, and how those grants are helping them do it.
Second step Housing is a small, affordable housing provider with 10 transitional housing properties and 42 units for people exiting homelessness and working toward self-sufficiency. The organization currently serves more than 225 individuals in Clark County annually.
“We don’t consider people’s backgrounds, and we give them the benefit of the doubt when they’re moving in,” said Second Step Housing Executive Director Tim Foley. “We’re a mission-based landlord. We work with people. Our goal is to get people stably housed for the long-term.”
Since taking charge of Second Step Housing four years ago, Foley has tried to add as many units as possible to Clark County’s affordable housing stock.
“The need is outpacing the response, so we need to be out there hustling to add units,” he said.
The organization acquired two properties in the past year, one on Neals Lane in Fourth Plain Village and one on Southeast 30th Street in east Vancouver.
A $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington paid for all the appliances at the Neals Lane property that includes eight units for homeless families earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income.
“Grants like that are a big help,” Foley said. “They really help us to keep costs down.”
Foley said the organization is currently trying to locate properties to acquire. It is also seeking other community organizations to team up with to extend its reach.
“Conditions have changed a lot with the pandemic,” he said. “Things are more expensive, and there’s less land available to work with. But we’re always looking for the next acquisition project. It’s a daily process of finding new units for people.”
To access properties owned by Second Step Housing, people need to meet certain requirements and be referred by an organization like Council for the Homeless.
To learn more about Second Step Housing, visit secondstephousing.org.
Proud Ground, a Portland-based community land trust, has slowly been expanding into Clark County over the past seven years. The organization, one of the largest community home trusts in the nation, focuses predominantly on providing families of color with homeownership.
“For generations, households of color have been locked out of homeownership,” said Proud Ground Executive Director Dianne Linn. “Our mission is centered around unlocking homeownership for lower- to middle-class families that will never be able to save enough for a down payment to enter the home market.”
Linn is working with the city of Vancouver, the Vancouver Housing Authority and Clark County to identify properties for new projects. Victor Caesar, development director for the Vancouver Housing Authority and a co-chair on Proud Ground’s board, is helping to build connections between Clark County and Proud Ground.
“I’ve got my eye all over the region,” Linn said.
A $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington was used to improve the organization’s Homeownership Education and Counseling Program, which helps prepare families for homeownership through information sessions on things like how to handle a mortgage, how to improve a credit score and more. The grant paid for technology improvements so the organization can host more virtual events and thereby reach more families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate.
“It’s a financial fitness effort,” Linn said. “We give people hope and then send them on a path to improve their financial situation.”
Linn has also been meeting with local leaders from Camas, Washougal, Ridgefield and La Center to help connect people in those jurisdictions with programs available through Proud Ground.
“A land trust is about reflecting the community, and we want to be sure we’re engaged with the political players in the community who are trying to promote these efforts,” she said. “New funding opportunities in Clark County are coming down the pipe, and we’re on board.”
To learn more about Proud Ground, visit proudground.org.
Evergreen Habitat for Humanity recently launched its Habitat Home Trust, a program that aims to create and preserve affordable housing in Clark County.
The organization is constructing nine new homes at Johnson Village, a plot of land recently acquired by the organization located on Northeast 32nd Street beside Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in east Vancouver. Those nine homes will be owned by the Habitat Home Trust and will remain permanently affordable through a community land trust model.
The organization also recently purchased 42 homes scattered throughout Clark County in partnership with the Vancouver Housing Authority. Those homes, along with every home purchased by the organization moving forward, will also be owned by the Habitat Home Trust.
Who will be eligible to apply to live in those homes?
For Johnson Village, families who make between 30 and 50 percent of the area median income are eligible. For the other 42 homes and for future homes purchased by the trust, families who make anywhere between 40 and 80 percent of the area median income will be eligible.
A $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington funded an organizationwide equity audit as the Habitat Home Trust was being formulated.
“We’re going to be providing homes that will always be affordable,” said Evergreen Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Josh Townsley. “They will always be a place for a family to have a safe and decent roof over their heads.”
To learn more about Evergreen Habitat for Humanity and the Habitat Home Trust, visit www.ehfh.org.