Land trust houses now available qualifying buyers

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After two years of development, it’s open house time for the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust and its 16 houses, all former foreclosures, up for sale in Kalispell.

“We have one [house] closing at the end of December and another one that will be closing probably in the first quarter of 2012,” said Marney McCleary, the acting executive director of the land trust.

“So we still have 14 homes unspoken for,” she said. “We have a lot of marketing and outreach that we still want to do.” 

The Northwest Montana Community Land Trust aims to bring a new model of affordable home ownership to Kalispell.

A joint venture between the city of Kalispell and Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana, the nonprofit land trust was launched with $2.64 million in federal funding to buy, renovate, maintain and resell the 16 houses.

All of the houses were empty, bank-owned foreclosures before they were bought and renovated and placed in the land trust.

Funding for the land trust was made available to Kalispell in 2009 through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 that tried to reduce the impact of widespread foreclosures as the housing market collapsed.

In all, about $19.6 million in federal funding was made available to Montana communities through the program.

Houses in the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust all are 10 years old or newer and range in price from $81,000 up to $140,000. Most of the houses needed just $5,000 to $7,000 of renovation work, McCleary said.

“The homes are in beautiful condition,” she said.

They now are being offered for sale to people who earn up to 120 percent of area median income, a figure adjusted annually. For 2011 the area median income is $57,100 for a family of four. 

As required by the federal grant, a portion of the land trust houses are reserved for low-income people who earn 50 percent or less of the area median income.

All of the buyers must have sufficient credit to qualify for financing, McCleary said.

While the houses are sold and people can stay in them as long as they want, the land is leased and remains in the land trust in perpetuity. Houses are sold separately from the lots, which helps make them more affordable.

Resale price restrictions let a seller recoup a “fair amount” of their equity and help keep the houses affordable for future buyers.

People involved with the land trust project hope it will help make home ownership a more attainable goal for working families in Kalispell.

A shortage of affordable housing has been a problem in Kalispell for years, said Katharine Thompson, the city’s community development manager and a member of the land trust’s board of directors.

Kalispell’s housing prices have fallen substantially during the past two years, but not far enough for many people who live and work in the city to buy a house, Thompson said.

“It’s dropped quite a lot, yet we still have that issue of families working here and holding a job who can be qualified  buyers but can’t get into a home on the kind of wages they make,” she said.

Thompson sees the land trust as a new, permanent rung in the housing market to help people work their way into a normal commercial market home.

“It enables us to recycle an initial investment and continue helping families with what will be a perennial issue,” she said. “I certainly hope we can in a rather efficient way match up potential home buyers with the homes.”

Part of the challenge is educating the community about the land trust model, Thompson said. “It’s not a new concept nationally but it is relatively new to us in Montana.”

The Northwest Montana Community Land Trust is the second land trust in Flathead County, joining the Whitefish Area Land Trust.

Eight of the 16 houses in the land trust are in a neighborhood between Airport Road and the U.S. 93 Alternate Route in southwest Kalispell.

Four houses are on Empire Loop and Barron Way in northwest Kalispell, three are on Quincy Loop and Buttercup Loop in southeast Kalispell, and one is on Lupine Drive in west Kalispell.

For more information about the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust or to schedule a viewing, call coordinator Jared Johnson at 752-6565.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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