By Rhea Miller
Thirty years ago a group of citizens on Orcas and Lopez were introduced to a new idea called a community land trust, a private nonprofit community-based corporation that holds land aside permanently for use by the community. On Lopez, the uses include affordable housing, farm succession for food security and cottage enterprises.
Lopez Community Land Trust housed the first residents to move into a community land trust on the West Coast, and was featured in The New York Times. One of the first homeowners said, “Our past housing was stable only in the sense that it was literally a stable (barn).” Now that LCLT homeowners have stable housing, they have the opportunity to develop local businesses, and volunteer for the benefit of the entire community. “One of the goals of the LCLT is empowerment, not dependence,” says Executive Director Sandy Bishop. “We have struggled to find a way to provide housing that offers an opportunity for people to strengthen their position in society – to let people help themselves.” In addition to paying their property taxes, residents of LCLT housing volunteer for EMS, Lopez School, Family Resource Center, the dump, Patos Island Lighthouse, hospice and more.
Another quote from one of the earliest homeowners stated, “Most of my Lopez housing has been in substandard housing — no bathrooms, no toilet, no shower, no sink, just a cold water tap in the kitchen if I was lucky,” and “In the last three years I moved seven times. One move included losing a substandard rental and all of my possessions to fire.” These scenarios are still happening.
Over the last 30 years, LCLT has provided 48 units of housing, most of it homeownership, and purchased one farm. Due to the equity cap on Lopez’s affordable housing, LCLT provides the opportunity for tax dollars to remain invested in the local community. The subsidies invested in building these homes will not disappear into the pockets of private citizens, but remain with the homes for their useable life. On Lopez this means for 198 years the land and houses must be maintained as affordable housing.
Lopez Community Land Trust is one of the few CLTs to require sweat equity, that is, participation by the homeowners in the construction of their new homes. LCLT provides training not only in construction, but also in the responsibilities of home ownership, such as maintenance, household budgeting, insurance, energy use, and community leadership.
When the first community land trust developed on Lopez, it was a new idea, a change, and one that initially provoked some hostility. Stereotyping and rumors proliferated. Times do change, however, and new ideas must take hold to meet the new challenges. During 2019, Lopez Community Land Trust is celebrating 30 years of living that change.