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Helping At-Risk Homeowners Stay Put With a Land Trust
Three years ago, Lisa was in trouble.
The Minneapolis homeowner had fallen victim to several recent misfortunes, including a divorce and diagnosis of a chronic illness. But it was the attention of a particularly punitive city housing inspections department that almost did her in.
“They did very brutal inspections,” remembers Lisa (her name has been changed for privacy reasons). “You’d be ordered to paint your house and trim, and if you didn’t paint the trim, the fines would double.”
Lisa was required to paint the trim around her own house, add handrails to the front steps, and fix the roof. Later, the city also pointed out that two elm trees in her yard were diseased and had to be cut down. The fines she was assessed had a steep interest rate and the total grew rapidly; within a few years, she owed $24,000; plus, she needed another $4,000 to cut down the elm trees.
Lisa, then 65, didn’t have that kind of money, so the amount was added to her property taxes, putting her house at risk. Lisa’s story sounds dramatic, but it’s not a particularly unusual one for low- and moderate-income seniors around the country.
Luckly there's a small program currently being implemented in Minneapolis that addresses these types of problems, and then some. It funds housing retrofits and pays off outstanding bills so that seniors can age in place, and could cover some services as well. And it keeps the homes affordable to low and moderate-income buyers in perpetuity, so that when seniors no longer live there, the houses don’t fall into the hands of investors or negligent landlords. It takes advantage of the land trust model—but tweaks it slightly.