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Osceola group looking to start Community Land Trust for affordable housing

As new home prices and rental rates rise in Osceola County, a group of housing advocates are looking to the Community Land Trust (CLT) model as a potential new source for affordable workforce housing.

Jamie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, will lead a workshop May 6 for realtors, land owners, developers and anyone interested in learning more about community land trusts and how they work.

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The county's Human Services Division, which administers Osceola's Section 8 program, is co-hosting the workshop with the Osceola County Association of Realtors.

"I'm looking forward to learning more about it," Assistant Human Services Director Danicka Ransom said. "I definitely think there's a need for more affordable housing. A lot of people in Osceola County work in the hospitality industry, and they find it difficult to find apartments to meet their wages."

A CLT is a non-profit organization that accepts donations of land or housing for the purpose of providing affordable housing. Since the trust maintains ownership of the land, the cost of buying a home or developing multifamily housing is greatly reduced.

"The CLT model is a way to provide home ownership to folks who are priced out of the market," Ross said. "Or it could be used to develop rental housing."

CLTs are typically found in areas with exceptionally high housing prices. "Palm Beach has so many land trusts there's a consortium," she said.

The city of Winter Park partnered with the Hannibal Square CLT to build single family homes and rental units in the community. In that case, the city bought the land and donated it to the trust.

But CLTs also seek private donations for undeveloped land or even homes in need of renovation. Some property owners do it for the tax write-off, others do it because they believe in the mission, Ross said.

"They do it because they know how important it is to have housing stock for the workforce," she said. "If people don't want to move to your community because they can't find a place to live, it really undermines the ability of the community to grow."

Karl Theobald, a builder who chairs Osceola's Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, said many people would be surprised to learn that the city of St. Cloud has the highest rental rates in Central Florida. He feels the first priority should be to develop a multifamily community.

"Others are leaning toward home ownership -- it's a good concept too, but I think for now the rental route is the way to go," he said. "Let's say you get 20 units, that's an immediate impact."

Veronica Malolos, a broker with NAI Realvest, said there was an effort several years ago to create a CLT in Osceola County, but the plan fizzled out because there wasn't a perceived lack of affordable housing after the recession. Since then, home prices in the county now average $210,000 and rental rates are skyrocketing.

"That locks out low-income families from home ownership -- and in a lot of cases -- even from renting," she said.

Malolos serves on the county's Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. "It really is a passion of mine," she said. "My personal goal from the workshop is to get buy-in from the community."

She's looking for volunteers to serve on the CLT board who are equally committed to the cause.

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"The real need right now is for rental properties," she said. "There are many families who can't get into apartments because of their credit history or inability to pay deposits, so they end up in motels or doubled up with friends and family. If we could get donors to donate improved properties, we could apply for grants to rehabilitate it."

Trust attorneys and land owners who are facing estate taxes could be can also take advantage of CLT tax benefits.

The May 6 workshop will dedicate the morning session to educating people about land trusts and how they work. The afternoon session will focus on strategic analysis of the potential for a CLT in Osceola County.

"What we need right now is a group of affordable housing advocates who have relationships with those people and who can get those donations," Malolos said. "My personal goal from the workshop is to get buy-in from the community. If there's no interest in pursuing it, it dies there."

The group is also hoping for at least one donation to get the ball rolling. "We're not picky on the location," Theobald said. "We would be appreciative of any donation. The key is that it's close to transit, and unfortunately that's usually the more expensive property."

IF YOU GO
WHAT: Community Land Trust workshop
WHEN: May 6, 2016 from 9 am to 4 pm
WHERE: Kissimmee Bay Country Club, at 2801 Kissimmee Bay Blvd.
RSVP:  GAD@Osceola-Realtors.com

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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