Our latest guest blogger, Kathleen Hosfeld, is a current student at the School of Theology and Ministry (pursuing a Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality) and the Executive Director of Seattle-based Homestead Community Land Trust. Like all community land trusts, Homestead is in the business of making communities more stable, sustainable, accessible and affordable. Kathleen sees their work – “creating and preserving affordable homeownership opportunities for modest-income homebuyers in the Greater Seattle/Puget Sound area” – as an essential piece of a multidimensional and holistic response to the complex problems of homelessness and housing affordability/insecurity. It’s a way to both empower and stabilize individuals and families, and strengthen communities. Learn more about the what, how and why of their work at www.homesteadclt.org.
By Kathleen Hosfeld, Executive Director, Homestead Community Land Trust
The facts are stark. As of February 2016, the Seattle Times reported that the median price of a home in Seattle had risen to almost $644,000 – a 24% increase over the previous year. To afford that home a person has to have an income in excess of $100,000 per year and a down payment of more than $100,000. That price is out of reach for 60% of the potential buyers in our community, where median income is closer to $75,000.
We live in a community where only the affluent have the opportunity to own their own home. As the Executive Director of a community land trust, I see teachers, non-profit employees, medical technicians, first responders and social workers denied this part of the American Dream. Modest-income people who try to own a home often buy more home than they can afford. Those who relocate for affordability often have longer commutes – transportation time and expense can bring their cost of living back to unaffordable levels, increase their environmental impact and take time away from their families.
Runaway real estate costs have created an affordability crisis that affects everyone. But for more than 100 years restrictive covenants, discriminatory federal policies, bank redlining and predatory lending practices have also disproportionately targeted minorities, creating more obstacles to homeownership.
As a result, in addition to a growing wealth gap, there is an even wider racial wealth gap, with median-income white families having 13 times the wealth of median-income black families. Community land trusts like Homestead arose out of the Civil Rights era and the work of colleagues of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. They’ve shown that when communities work together, we can change these statistics and change lives for the better.
As we grapple with our crises of homelessness and housing affordability in the greater Seattle area, we must at the same time take a holistic view of the roles played by different forms of housing in lifting people’s financial circumstances. In Washington State we talk about the “housing continuum” – a progression of services that includes emergency housing, transitional and permanent supportive housing and subsidized rental. Each form of housing plays a critical role in creating a just community, where the most vulnerable are protected. And a holistic, systems view of housing recognizes that increasing access to affordable homeownership is a strategy that helps the whole continuum. Programs that support people in safely building equity reduce their risk of future housing instability.
Alyssa’s story provides a great example. Six years ago, Alyssa was a single mother struggling with an unsympathetic landlord who refused to address mold issues that affected the health of her children. Alyssa had significant financial and credit issues. By working with Homestead staff over time, she was able to clean up her financial issues and in 2015 she bought a single-family home in West Seattle, close to bus lines, schools and grocery stores.
Without this opportunity, families like Alyssa’s could easily end up on the street. The changes that Alyssa made in her life to prepare for homeownership, combined with an affordable mortgage and a consistent housing payment give her and her family opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.
As I write this, the Washington State legislature is considering increasing the funding available to organizations like Homestead that make homeownership a reality for modest income people. People in Seattle are now being invited to discuss the Mayor’s proposal for renewal of our housing levy. As you exercise your civic voice, consider the important role that access to homeownership plays in creating inclusive and equitable communities.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- LEARN how you and your faith community can partner with Homestead Community Land Trust to make homeownership possible for modest income families. Contact Homestead CLT at 206-323-1227 Ext 113 and speak to Kathleen Hosfeld for more information.
- WATCH 99 Homes, a 2015 film that explores the brutality of the Great Recession housing crisis.
- DISCUSS: Homeownership – its role in an inclusive, equitable community. Free panel discussion on Thursday, March 24, 6-8:00pm, Learn more and register here→
- ADVOCATE! Write letters to your elected officials, send Letters to the Editor at your local paper and talk to others about the need for affordable housing options and the structural causes of poverty and homelessness.
→ Sign up to get Action Alerts on social service and housing policy and budget issues from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance at wliha.org; Firesteel – YWCA at firesteelwa.org; and the Housing Development Consortium (Seattle and King County) at housingconsortium.org.