Newswise — ATLANTA–Georgia State University sociologists and their colleagues at the City University of New York (CUNY) have received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study community land trusts (CLTs), one way American cities can address the shortages of safe, affordable housing and their effects on residents.

The researchers will examine how much CLTs help to improve residents’ economic situations, sense of safety and security, as well as social capital – the relationships among people living in the community, helping to make life better for one another – and the sense residents feel they can improve their lives.

The researchers include Deirdre Oakley, professor of sociology, and Erin Ruel, associate professor of sociology at Georgia State, Mary Clare Lennon of the CUNY Graduate Center and lead investigator Susan Saegert of the CUNY Graduate Center.

“This will be the first systematic, scientific study comparing CLT homeowners to low to moderate income homeowners on the private housing market,” Ruel said of the study, which will examine CLTs in the Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., areas.

“With more robust information, we have an opportunity to let policy makers know what does and doesn’t work in terms of community land trusts versus private market housing,” Oakley said.

CLTs offer low-income families the opportunity to purchase homes at prices that are much more affordable than on the private market. In the CLT model, a non-profit trust owns the land homes are on, while individuals are able to purchase their home with the help of lenders and a homeowner training class.

Prices for the homes are lower than on the private market, aided because the land is owned by the trust, and the equity, the value of the home and the land it sits on, is shared between the owner and the trust.

By not having the land as part of the individual homeowner’s total equity, there’s less of a risk where a low-income homeowner could owe much more than the home is worth, something that caused many to lose their homes during the collapse of the housing market in 2008-2009 in many American cities.

CLTs lend to more stable neighborhoods overall, and when the foreclosure crisis happened at the end of the 2000s, there were almost no foreclosures in CLT housing, Ruel said. Conversely, housing prices remain more stable in the event the surrounding areas skyrocket in popularity and price, because the equity is shared between the trust and the homeowner.

Earlier research has shown that the stability of the neighborhoods of CLTs lends itself to other positive effects. Residents feel more secure from crime, feel more secure from losing their homes, have better quality housing and have better educational outcomes for children and adults themselves going back to school learn more skills or looking for new jobs, Saegert said.

“We found that residents were finding their lives so much more livable,” she said. “Not only were their housing costs now controllable, and they had security of tenure [in their residences], but they also had support from the trust, and they really blossomed.”

Oakley said the grant will fund through NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates initiative a student who will aid Georgia State sociologists in gathering study data, managing data and ensuring data accuracy.

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