Community: A Matter of Trust

Can community land trusts provide affordable housing? Maui is set to find out.


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Maui may be the center of Hawai‘i’s crisis in affordable housing. With the average home price approaching $700,000, working families there are increasingly excluded from home ownership. And Maui is only the worst example. Affordable housing is in short supply throughout the state. But Maui is also at the forefront in the search for solutions. Recently, affordable-housing advocates, the Realtors Association of Maui and the county government collaborated to create Na HALE o Maui, a community land trust (CLT).

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez hopes to help provide affordable housing. photo: Matt Thayer

Na HALE o Maui is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to acquire land and develop affordable housing. Although it plans to sell homes, the organization will never sell the land, instead remaining the permanent landowner. By definition, CLTs like this offer long-term, renewable leases—a concept familiar to Hawai‘i homeowners. In addition, when the owner decides to resell his home, a CLT will typically retain the option to buy at a specified price. The price is fixed by a formula that gives the seller a fair profit. These rules ensure that the homes remain affordable for future buyers.

CLTs aren’t new; more than 30 states have them. For example, BCLT, of Burlington, Vt., has provided affordable housing for more than 20 years. Recently, BCLT merged with another organization to become the Champlain Housing Trust and now oversees around 2,000 homes.

Here in Hawai‘i, the CLT model enjoys bipartisan political support, including that of state Sen. Robert Bunda (D). Last year, Bunda introduced legislation making certain state lands available to CLTs. According to Bunda, “We have lots of land currently zoned for agriculture that would be appropriate for this kind of development.” This year, Bunda expects to introduce legislation authorizing private developers to build homes on state land leased to CLTs.

CLTs have some downsides: Homeowners may not receive the traditional benefits of owning a house. For example, CLTs limit the amount of equity a home can accrue, minimizing one of the primary ways a fee simple home builds a family’s wealth. Some experts are also concerned about the use of state resources for private gain.

But Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, president of Na HALE o Maui, says support for the CLT is strong. The county council has already appropriated $50,000 for it, and the Realtors Association of Maui chipped in $15,000. “We’re moving ahead,” says Blackburn-Rodriquez. “We’re already in consultation with a number of developers.” Private landowners have offered to donate land. With luck, construction could start within a year. Not a moment too soon for Maui’s strapped homebuyers.

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