—-JPMorgan Chase Sponsored Content—-

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Special to the AFRO

If you’ve been a tenant all your life, it is not easy to buy a house.  And yet, homeownership is not as hard as it may seem. With some advice and assistance you can own your home. Douglass Community Land Trust can help you make that happen.  

The Douglass Community Land Trust, named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass and incorporated in September 2019, is “a non-profit membership organization devoted to preventing displacement of present and future residents of the District of Columbia. Douglass CLT is in the business of creating assets for low and moderate income families and empowering community members with control of their homes and neighborhoods through asset infusions, programming and grass roots decision-making.” That sounds like a mouthful but when one goes after it in small bites it goes down easier. Simply put, one can learn how to buy a house.

Child playing at the Savannah Apt. Cookout and Community Day. (Savannah Apts are the first 65 rental units to come into Douglass CLT’s portfolio, and the buildings are owned/ managed by NHT-Communities.)Nery Pena is a member of Douglass CLT who bought her house in June of 2021. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to find somewhere affordable and feel like we could stay for the long term,” she said, explaining her first impression while looking for a house. And then she turned to the Douglass Community Land Trust for its know-how.  “…It was a new experience for me and I didn’t know terms used or how things worked (with buying a home).”

Converting tenants to homeowners is an educational process with some hand-holding involved.  “The Douglass CLT made sure I truly understood what was going on, what I needed to do, and what I was signing up for. The whole process was nerve wracking, but they made me feel comfortable.” The educational process usually involves informing potential homeowners of the need for a good credit score and the ability to make monthly payments (same as rent) that include the mortgage, interest, property taxes and homeowners insurance.  Urging new homeowners to set aside some reserve funds for items such as roof maintenance or appliance repair or replacement is also instructed.   Pena said, “I really appreciate that they kept real with me throughout.”

Douglass CLT Board President Sheldon Clark speaking at DC government’s announcement of a partnership with Douglass Community Land Trust and development team to redevelop the historic Langston and Slater Schools. Also pictured are the development team members Russ Snyder, President and CEO, Volunteers of America Chesapeake & Carolinas; Charles King, principal and co-founder of CSG Urban Partners; Susanne Slater, President & CEO Habitat for Humanity of DC; Pastor H. Lionel Edmonds, Mt. Lebanon CDC; and John Falcicchio, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.The Douglass CLT is a partnership organization that works with community residents and businesses to provide legal advice and support for functioning that will keep houses affordable in the areas where they work. They buy land to build houses on, rent a plot to home buyers at no costs, with no strings attached and use it to make the house affordable to the new homeowner as well as to the next homebuyer of that particular property down the line. 

Sheldon Clarke, president of Douglass CLT, proudly says, “”We index our housing values to the incomes in an area versus housing prices.” In other words, while house values can steadily go up, neighborhood incomes do not rise as quickly. So Douglass CLT always bases their sales prices on what folks in the neighborhood can afford. It is a smart approach to keeping the properties it handles affordable.  Homebuyers sign an agreement using a “pay it forward” concept that is built into the land lease that limits their future asking price of the home if and when they sell.  The new homeowner still has value in the property that they can borrow against to start a business, finance college tuition for children or grandchildren or make substantial repairs to the home.  But the pay it forward deal, which can also be used for businesses, shares the wealth fairly between current and future buyers.  

Group of a few Douglass CLT board members. L-R: Kymone Freeman, Maybelle Taylor Bennett, Keiva Dennis, Dr. Brett Theodos, Vaughn Perry

As a member of a collaborative, the Douglass Community Land Trust was funded by JPMorgan Chase with a $5 million contribution over three years in 2017 as part of JPMorgan Chase’s PRO Neighborhoods competition, currently called AdvancingCities. Following its incorporation, two years later, Douglass CLT is making strides in the original vision. 

“This region has seen accelerated regional growth due to an influx of people, public and private capital, but we believe lasting and real growth in the region is dependent on advancing the economic trajectory of low-income residents,” said Dekonti Mends-Cole, vice president, JPMorgan Chase Mid-Atlantic, Global Philanthropy, when asked about Douglass CLT’s fit into that vision.

“A core driver displacing low-income residents is the evaporation of affordable housing, and the District has experienced some of the highest levels of resident displacement in the country. The community land trust model is one of many interventions actively working to shift the tide of displacement and ensure that all neighbors can benefit from a prosperous region no matter what income level they are.”

Most recently, JPMorgan Chase announced new steps to address the aforementioned housing affordability gap as part of its $30 billion commitment to advance racial equity and drive an inclusive recovery. including; 

  • A five-year $400 million philanthropic commitment to low-cost loans, equity and grants targeted to nonprofits and organizations in the affordable housing space that work to improve affordability and stability for targeted households.
  • New Chase Community Home Lending Advisor role to help more people on the journey to homeownership and actively engage with industry partners to find ways to address gaps in the residential appraisal process.
  • The JPMorgan Chase Policy Center will partner with policy makers and community leaders to advance data and evidence-based solutions to tackle housing challenges.

“We’re trying to address some of the barriers to affordable housing and homeownership to help provide family stability and build generational wealth for Black and Latinx families,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co. “Whether you rent or own your home, more families deserve fair, sustainable and accessible options and businesses have a responsibility to develop housing solutions for those who lack access to opportunity.”

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here!