Kulshan land trust helping families buy homes, connect with community

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 23, 2014 

Craig Aument of Cascade Joinery brings trim into the 100th Kulshan Community Land Trust house Feb. 23, 2012, on Madrona Street in Bellingham. The 1100-square-foot house has two bedrooms and one and half baths.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Our family purchased our Fairhaven home in 1994. I was an up and coming retail manager at the time. I was able to scrape up a down payment through a home loan program I had access to because of my veteran status. A fluke. We lucked out. It was one of the most important decisions our family ever made.

It's not a choice many young families have today. Home prices have skyrocketed with wages growing about half as fast (at best). There is an ever-widening gap between wages and affordable homes.

When I talk to people about this gap, I ask them if they could afford their home at its current value at the income they have. For many of us (including myself) the answer is no. We are the lucky ones.

Our community is in the midst of a profound change in the availability of affordable homes. And because this change has taken place gradually, it is all but hidden from view to many of us. That changes when your family is scraping up the means to buy their first home, families like mine back in 1994. These families are all but shut out from the market. This is a story I know very well because it is the one we hear over and over again from the people our organization serves.

Kulshan Community Land Trust is a resource that helps to keep our community from tipping over into a place that has no homes for the retail manager I used to be, or the bank teller, janitor, cook, or librarian that you may have once been, or that your son or granddaughter is today or may be tomorrow. Our organization is a rung on a ladder that helps people create better lives for themselves.

Though the underlying details are complex, the land trust model is at heart a simple thing. Where a traditional home purchase includes both the home and the land, the land trust model separates these two investments. The land, owned by the trust, becomes a permanent community resource. This makes the home more affordable to the buyer. The community is literally a partner in the purchase of the home.

In essence, we keep the door open to let families participate in the American dream of homeownership. These are families are able to put down roots in the form of a reasonable commute to work or school, long-term relationships with neighbors and the improved quality of life that comes from having a garden or pet. More than anything else, it's the knowledge of being secure in a place of one's own.

As an investment, it helps homeowners build equity, helping them make a transition into traditional home ownership or towards investing in a college education. Typically, Kulshan Community Land Trust mortgage payments are less than rent.

Land trusts keep other doors open as well. For employers, homeownership becomes part of a larger story of long-term, stable employment by people who are invested in the community they serve. For businesses, home ownership means people who have more money to spend on goods and services - instead of rent. For communities, ownership fosters stronger connections, commitments and greater sense of belonging.

As our community continues to answer questions about how our families live and work in Whatcom County, the more we understand each other, the stronger, more vital, and more connected our community will be.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dean Fearing is executive director of Kulshan Community Land Trust. For more information online, go to kulshanclt.org.

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