NEIGHBORS SEEK LAND TRUST
Members of a coalition want to protect their community as an overhaul looms.
Members of a community coalition in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea say they see the signs of a looming disaster for longtime residents, evident in skyrocketing property tax bills, rent hikes and speculative homebuying that are pushing more people out.
Members of a community coalition in Globeville and ElyriaSwansea say they see the signs of a looming disaster for longtime residents, evident in skyrocketing property tax bills, rent hikes and speculative homebuying that are pushing more people out.
Armed with new survey data showing the housing and economic pressures facing 500 residents, the coalition on Tuesday announced a drive to raise money and launch a community land trust. It’s a long-considered effort that would involve partial ownership of properties by a nonprofit with the aim of stabilizing home prices and keeping the neighborhood affordable for dozens or even hundreds of residents.
But how that land trust would work and whether community leaders can raise enough money remain open questions.
One leader estimated a robust community land trust program would need $2 million to $3 million at the start, but it could require even more, experts suggest.
In coming weeks, members of the coalition plan to appeal to city officials for financial help they see as long overdue.
“The increases in the cost of living leave homeowners severely vulnerable to predators like the real-estate and fix-and-flip companies,” activist Rey Gallegos said at a news conference outside Focus Points Family Resource Center. It was organized by the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea Coalition Organization for Health and Justice.
“Now they send letters, they hang signs, they post fliers, they even call — and sometimes they just knock on your door to try to get people to sell their homes or move out of a neighborhood, just to alleviate financial woes,” he said. “So, all these factors are creating more stress, more pressure, and impact the physical and mental health of our community.”
Home prices have been marching upward all over Denver, and Elyria Swansea recently saw spikes in official valuation averaging more than 50 percent.
That area and Globeville — both neighborhoods with heavily Latino populations that have been there for generations — are an epicenter of change.
Massive government projects are set to remake the area in the coming years — from the state’s $1.2 billion Interstate 70 widening project to the $1.1 billion National Western Center initiative, led by the city of Denver, that’s set to redevelop the stock show campus into a year-round entertainment, agriculture and education center.
A community land trust might make sense for the neighborhoods, at least in theory. But the details quickly get complex.
“We would welcome the conversation,” said Erik Soliván, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s executive director of the Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere, or HOPE.
At the most basic level, such a land trust would involve a nonprofit organization negotiating ownership on the land beneath the house, and then leasing long-term to whomever owns the home. Covenants or other legal restrictions would allow some home appreciation, but would keep the home price affordable for a family of modest means.
Coalition director Nola Miguel said a land trust could assemble a patchwork of single- and multifamily properties in the neighborhoods, buying and reselling some homes, while renting out others. The group also could negotiate with homeowners to place their houses in the program to protect their affordability in perpetuity.
The coalition will look for public and private sources to help launch such a trust, Miguel said. One potential source is a roughly $15 million-a-year housing fund created last year by the City Council.
The land trust effort has some influential organizations involved for what neighborhood leaders hope will be a demonstration project. The Urban Land Conservancy hired a firm to conduct a feasibility analysis for the area, and the Colorado Community Land Trust, which got its start building mostly new townhomes under a land-trust model in the Lowry neighborhood, also is signed up to help, the coalition says.
“There has been a lot of work towards that goal and we will continue to work with our partners to nurture a strong GES Community Land Trust for future generations,” Colorado Community Land Trust director Jane Harrington said in a statement.
The community coalition’s partners also include Project Voyce, FRESC, Habitat for Humanity, Groundwork Denver, Clinica Tepeyac and The GrowHaus.
But city officials are not yet on board to help pay for a land trust’s formation.
Soliván said community leaders in other low-income neighborhoods with similar housing pressures, including Westwood, have begun to look at land trusts as a possibility to fight gentrification.
Soliván had experience with them when he worked in Philadelphia, but he cautioned that land trusts are a complex tool that need thoughtful consideration to address housing displacement — another term for gentrification — and keep homes affordable.
“What we’re receptive to is land trusts as a tool,” said Soliván, adding that city officials have been looking at their potential application in many areas of the city as they put together a multiyear housing strategy plan. “That is something that we were already looking at before the GES Coalition came out. … But it’s a complex tool that requires a lot of thoughtfulness and a lot of expertise.”
At Tuesday’s news conference, Virginia Calderon, who has lived in ElyriaSwansea for 26 years, urged city officials to get involved.
“We want to stay in our community,” she said. “If our health and well-being is not a priority for the city, we don’t have a future here. We invite the mayor to respond to the crisis that is directly affecting the communities in need.”