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Miami Herald - January 21, 2007

Homestead housing plan may set trend
The city is looking to create a nonprofit agency that would build a new kind of affordable housing.

BY Rebecca Dellagloria

A plan to make home ownership a reality for families priced out of the market may make Homestead a trendsetter in the realm of affordable housing.

The city's Community Redevelopment Agency plans to create what is known as a community land trust, a nonprofit organization that will build homes using land donated by the city and the CRA.

The property would be put into a trust, and housing developed on the land would be sold to people in targeted income brackets, who would actually be buying what amounts to a 99-year lease on the land.

''A land trust is not a solution to affordable housing, but it's something we feel is a good tool,'' said Homestead CRA Director Rick Stauts, who is spearheading the plan -- the first by any city in Miami-Dade County, he said.

The City Council discussed the concept at its Tuesday meeting, and an informational workshop was held Wednesday for potential board members and lenders.

The land trust concept has been tried in other parts of the country for years, including Burlington, Vt., and Aspen, Colo., Stauts said. The idea has attracted attention in South Florida as rising property values have squeezed working-class buyers, and governments are looking for ways to help them.

The land trust works because ''by selling a structure separate from the land, the cost of the property doesn't become part of the financing equation on the house,'' Stauts said.

So far, the only cities in South Florida that have established such trusts are Delray Beach, Marathon and Key West. On a smaller scale, the Miami-based Collins Center for Public Policy has purchased several acres in the Overtown area for land trusts. The Human Services Coalition in Miami-Dade also endorsed the idea of community land trusts in a 2005 report on affordable housing.

Land trusts are ''a very active topic in affordable housing circles in the last couple of years,'' said Rick Casey, executive director of the Middle Keys Community Land Trust, who said there are 17 active trusts in Florida and 13 more under consideration.

''It's a more attractive philosophy, particularly to our government partners [because of] the long-term affordability,'' he said.

In Homestead, the trust's aim would be to help families making between 60 percent and 140 percent of median income, or $27,810 to $64,890 annually.

The median income in Miami-Dade is $46,350. Families also would need a high-enough credit score to qualify for a home loan. To complete the purchase, some families would qualify for government subsidies through county programs, Stauts said.

The trust would work with Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit organization sponsored in part by the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, to find families eligible for the program long before the first brick is laid. The homes, mostly three- and some four-bedrooms, will sell for between $150,000 and $175,000, Stauts said.

The City Council will have to approve creation of the trust and appoint a board to oversee it and will likely do so at a workshop that will be scheduled in the next few months.

The informational workshop attracted representatives of First National, Community, TIB, Gibraltar and City banks as well as Fannie Mae, Eastern Federal Financial Credit Union, Bank United and the Dade County Farm Bureau.

At a City Council meeting Tuesday, the council decided not to appoint the board members because of concerns raised by Council member Lynda Bell and Vice Mayor Steve Losner that two of the nine proposed members report to Stauts. Stauts is also a proposed board member.

''I am just concerned they are all coming from the same department and that two of the three are [subordinates] of Rick Stauts,'' Losner said.

But Stauts said the board will be structured in a way that avoids giving control to any single faction: One-third of the members will be city employees; another third will come from the community which the trust serves, and another third will be real estate or banking professionals, he said.

Stauts said he wants people with knowledge of affordable housing, which is why he selected himself, a CRA employee and the city's community development director.

He said his goal is to transition CRA employees off the board once the trust gets off the ground. Losner suggested that two other city employees who do not work for the CRA or Stauts be appointed instead.

Mayor Roscoe Warren said the council can make that determination when it holds its workshop