With pristine beaches and secluded coves, flocks of wild
birds and some of the best fishing in Long Island Sound, Fishers Island has
long been noted as an East End vacation spot.
But by the mid-1980s, soaring home prices were sending more and more
residents of the island (pop. 275) packing. A group of civic associations
decided it had had enough; the trend had to stop.
In 1986 it conducted a study and formulated strategies to stem the exodus
of year-round homeowners from the island, a short ferry ride from Orient Point.
[CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a story in Friday's real estate section
about the nonprofit housing model called community land trusts mistakenly
identified the ferry service to Fishers Island. The service runs to New London.
A02 ALL 5/17/03]
Casting about for solutions, the civic group learned about a nonprofit
housing model known as a community land trust, which places low- to
moderate-income, first-time buyers in homes for a fraction of the prevailing
The group formed a nonprofit organization, the Walsh Park Benevolent Corp.,
and after raising $450,000 in 1987 it purchased 24 acres on the northwest part
of the 6-mile-long island. A dozen prefabricated three-bedroom houses were set
down on the site and sold to island residents, going for $65,000 to $95,000
"We're at a point now on Long Island where this model has a future," said
Frank Burr, board president of Walsh Park.
Community land trusts, known as CLTs, are nonprofit, community-based
organizations that hold land for the benefit of the localities they serve. They
often provide permanent affordable housing to a segment of their constituents.
Typically, a community land trust rents or sells the home to a buyer who
fits criteria set by its community-based board. The homeowner - usually a low-
to moderate-income family - leases the land from the trust for a period
determined by the board, usually 99 years.The trust retains ownership of the
land, thus lowering the initial home price for buyers, as well as the
subsequent purchase prices. The lease is the key to keeping the property
permanently affordable by including a resale formula that limits leaseholders
to a share of the increase in the home's value when they sell. (While
specifics vary with each agreement, profits from the sale are shared between
the seller and the trust.)
For more than two decades community land trusts have been established in
places such as Burlington, Vt., and the Lower East Side of Manhattan as a way
to help low- and middle-income families cope with expensive housing markets.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia now have at least one developing
or operating community land trust, according to the Institute for Community
Economics Inc., a nonprofit development organization based in Springfield, Mass.
Community land trusts have grown nationally from about 70 in 1992 to nearly
100 in 2000, according the institute, and more than two dozen others are in
the works. "We are seeing a tremendous amount of interest because housing costs
are slipping further from the reach of low- and moderate-income families,"
said Julie Orvis, network and events coordinator for the institute (Web site:
Like many mature suburbs, Long Island has used up its major tracts of
developable land - a factor that somewhat limits the growth of community land
trusts here, said Jim Morgo, president of the Long Island Housing Partnership.
Also, home ownership equates to empowerment for low- and moderate-income
families, so the inability to earn full equity may turn some off from community
land trusts, he said. "If you are going to use it for rentals in lower-income
areas, it makes a lot of sense," Morgo said. "It's not a silver bullet but it's
a good way to get people into housing."
So far, two homes in the Walsh Park subdivision have changed hands, Burr
said. Initially, these homes were acquired for around $95,000 and - with
improvements - resold about six years later for about $140,000, well below
market rate, Burr said.
One current resident, Sue Horn, is a local real estate sales agent. She
came to Fishers Island - where her husband, Luis, grew up - 14 years ago, when
her son, Mason, was a toddler. Even then the home prices were way beyond the
family's means, let alone the upwards of half a million dollars they typically
go for these days, she said. They were fortunate enough to be one of the first
to get on line for Walsh Park.
"There was no way we would have been able to buy on the island otherwise,"
she said. The fact they won't benefit from market-value equity on the $90,000
purchase price is not a concern. "We had always planned to stay here."
Robert Wall, a native of Fishers Island and longtime member of the Walsh
Park board, said the land trust offered an opportunity to provide housing that
would help the island's work force - school employees, firefighters, and
emergency service workers - stay put. "The Walsh Park project has been a total
success from day one," he said.
Officials in Southold Town are working on plans to create a community land
trust on the mainland, following in the footsteps of their northern neighbors
on Fishers Island.
Women in Conversation, a Cutchogue-based community organization, hosted a
recent daylong symposium on community land trusts. Lynda Clements, a member of
the group and a pastor at Cutchogue Presbyterian Church, said a video on the
subject inspired her to organize the meeting. "I fell in love with the concept
because it presented an answer to so many needs."
Co-hosted by the Institute of Community Economics, the meeting attracted a
cross-section of community members, including real estate agents, bankers,
employers, working-class families, seniors on fixed incomes and representatives
of churches and synagogues.
"People are recognizing that for a number of reasons, Long Island isn't
'working'" said Ron Stein, president of Vision Long Island, a Northport-based
group that advocates for "smart growth" practices. And one of the biggest
reasons, said Stein, is that there is no place for young people to live.
"Sensing that something is broken in the machine, people are ready to make a
In particular, the mounting interest in community land trusts on Long
Island - as in other parts of the country - is due to the lack of long-term
solutions to provide modestly priced housing. "The options are getting to be
ridiculous," said Robert J. Mulvey, founder and executive director of New
Directions, a grass-roots research group in Malverne. He said New Directions
and the Institute of Community Economics are considering a partnership to
provide a local source for technical assistance in setting up and operating the
Community land trusts also are being used to create office space and parks.
Aside from providing perennial affordable housing, land trusts also foster
hands-on grass-roots involvement and a sense of community, experts say.
In Mount Sinai, for example, New Directions helped a North Shore group form
a community land trust that, in partnership with Brookhaven Town, is now
involved in creating a park.
As the 400-acre Davis Peach Farm in Mount Sinai has been divided up into
housing developments, Lori Baldasarre, president of the Mount Sinai Civic
Association, and other members of her group set their sights on preserving a
17-acre parcel for the benefit of the community. The group formed a community
land trust, the Mount Sinai Heritage Trust, as a vehicle to tap into nonprofit
funding sources such as legislative and foundation grants and as a catalyst for
the acquisition and preservation of the property.
One member, Fred Drewes, embarked on a yearlong world bike tour that
generated pledges toward the purchase of the piece of property known as "the
wedge," a triangular lot bordered by Route 25A, County Road 83, and Mount
Sinai-Coram Road. With the funds raised from that endeavour and a grant made
available to the group by their local representative for the state, the Mount
Sinai Heritage Trust purchased close to an acre of the 17-acre parcel for
Capitalizing on the overwhelming support of nearby communities Port
Jefferson and Miller Place and drawing on its reputation as a cohesive group of
committed residents, the Mount Sinai group persuaded the town to purchase the
remaining 16-plus acres with public monies designated for land preservation.
By fall, they'll have a site for a public park. The site plan has been
approved by Brookhaven Town, the property is being graded and bids are being
submitted to create a park, to be jointly developed and maintained by the town
and the trust. When completed, the park will have three ball fields, walking
and jogging trails, an amphitheater, a community center and a playground.
Construction is expected to begin soon.
"We are not just building a park, we are building a sense of community,"
In Cutchogue, the first meeting of an organizing committee for a community
land trust convened Feb. 13, Clements said. "Starter homes, as scarce as hen's
teeth, are fetching in the high $200,000 into the low $300,000 range [on the
North Fork]," she said. "If I didn't have the opportunity to live in the church
home, I wouldn't be able to live on Long Island."
Jay Applegate, a retired investment banker and head of an affordable
housing committee authorized by Southold Town Supervisor Joshua Horton last
summer, is among the growing number of local trust supporters. The committee
has recommended that Southold create a community land trust to provide
affordable housing for people who live and or work in the town, Applegate said.
"We [the committee] were approached by many independent groups who wanted to
be part of any effort to help do something about this problem," he said.
Because community land trusts traditionally provide housing for those in
lower income brackets, they sometimes face resistance from "not in my backyard"
homeowners who fear their communities will be flooded with the working poor,
several advocates say.
"NIMBYism is alive and well," Clements said. To help combat the
stereotypes, her group has formed a subcommittee to conduct public education.
But Applegate said he does not anticipate a local backlash against any
community land trust project in the town. For one thing, he said, it would be
restricted to people who live or work in Southold. For another, it would focus
on existing properties rather than on new construction, which has been apt to
generate more opposition. Current zoning codes do not allow multifamily
dwellings in residential neighborhoods, he added.
At the same time, the downtowns of Mattituck and Southold contain more than
300 properties, including over-store apartments and older houses that have
been divided into apartments. These housing units could - providing the owners
are willing to sell - be bought by a community land trust and rehabilitated,
Applegate said. That way, the affordable housing stock would not be
concentrated on one site and special zoning would not be required. "There is a
meaningful consensus in the community, and we won't have to saddle the town
board with this," Applegate said. "If the board is supportive, it would be
great, but we don't need its blessings to move forward."
Perhaps the biggest barrier to efficient land use - and ultimately, more
modest-priced housing - on Long Island is zoning, said Stein of Vision Long
Island. Zoning policies, which call for separation of land uses, have crimped
development of vital downtowns and have outlived much of their usefulness,
Stein said. "More problematic is the fact that they promote segregation," he
Beyond providing affordable housing in perpetuity, community land trusts
have a broader benefit: upholding mixed-use, smart-growth principles, which
promote a blend of income levels and ethnicity, advocates say. "The extent to
which the CLT does that it's terrific," Stein said.
Furthermore, the trusts' potential to help retain the town's work force
makes the model a very attractive option, said Horton. Previously, there's been
little thinking outside the box, he said, "but if we are to foster a diverse,
self-sufficient community, we have to take community land trusts seriously."
Lending institutions, recognizing the market opportunities, appear willing
to jump in.
Darryl Lindsey, vice president of community lending, said Citibank has had
recent discussions with several Long Island groups interested in forming land
trusts. Citibank, which participated in the recent Southold symposium, can
facilitate ventures in various ways, he said - providing construction loans and
offering down payment assistance grants and homeownership education. The bank
can also partner with municipalities and community development corporations, he
Such partnerships are one option the Southold community land trust steering
committee is exploring, along with joining an existing nonprofit or forming a
new one, said committee member Karen McLaughlin, who is the director of
services for the Town of Southold.
McLaughlin said she's exhilarated about the trusts' potential for
affordable housing, despite the magnitude of the problem. "It's so exciting,"
she said. "I'd like to fast-forward 10 years from now."
NEXT WEEK: Finding Elusive Housing for the Young