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How the Thurston Housing Trust found its first property

Finally a home in an overheated market

This is the story of how the Thurston Housing Land Trust (THLT) was able to offer its first affordable home to a low-income family on Olympia’s westside. Community Land Trusts provide a model for our community to assure people in low-or-moderate income households that they can own a home.

Non-profit land trusts provide a very important opportunity for citizens and community members to collectively own land preserved for habitat conservation—as well as for economic and social justice initiatives that we as a community want to support in perpetuity. Conservation Land Trusts, such as The Nature Conservancy or our local Capitol Land Trust, Nisqually Land Trust and Chehalis River Basin Land Trust, are examples of land trusts that help preserve critical habitat from residential or industrial development. The Community FarmLand Trust helps to preserve farmland in a way that makes it affordable for continuing generations of farmers.

In the early 1990s my family had the good fortune to be able to purchase a house on the westside of Olympia that we could fix up and use for extended family or for rental income. Shortly after, I learned about Community Land Trusts as a successful model that could assure home ownership affordability for low-or-moderate income households in perpetuity. I attended a few Community Land Trust national conferences, helped create our local Community Farm Land Trust to adapt this model to supporting the sustained affordability of land for local family farms, and became a charter member of our Thurston Housing Land Trust.

Now in my 70s I am ready to divest myself of property ownership and management responsibilities. I have enough financial security to live comfortably, so I do not need to sell my rental house for maximum profit. Thus it has been an easy decision to support the THLT by donating the land (the housing lot) so that home ownership can be affordable for a low-or-moderate income family that only needs to qualify for a mortgage for the house. The land, which can be anywhere from 25-35% of the value of a house on a city lot in our urban area, will be owned by the Trust. The homeowner will have a 99-year lease for full and private use of the land.

To me, there are multiple benefits to my making this donation. Our local community benefits by having a house that will be permanently affordable for home ownership by a low-or-moderate income household. The THLT will benefit by gaining its first property and home. A low-or-moderate income family will be able to achieve home ownership. Finally, my family and I have the opportunity to leave a legacy that is consistent with our community and social justice values, and the donated value of the land deeded to the non-profit land trust is a charitable donation on my federal taxes.

My story, community values and financial or philanthropic options at this stage in my life are unique to myself. But there are many variations in the ways that all can contribute to providing safe and affordable housing for everyone in our community. These can include partial or full-value land donations to our Thurston Housing Land Trust.

Russ Fox taught for many years about housing and local agriculture at The Evergreen State College. He was a founder of the Thurston County Community Farmland Trust.

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