Crisis can lead to affordable housing

Marketplace Staff Feb 21, 2008
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Crisis can lead to affordable housing

Marketplace Staff Feb 21, 2008
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: The Bush Administration’s going to wait another month or two before it decides what to do next about rising foreclosure rates.

Robert Steel is an undersecretary of the Treasury Department. He said today the White House wants to let the private sector try to works things out first.

Nobody’s going to say people losing their homes is a good thing. But commentator and community development advocate Angela Glover Blackwell says there might just be a silver lining.


ANGELA GLOVER BLACKWELL: The mortgage crisis has been a disaster for many hard-working families who are striving for the American dream. Millions of Americans, especially low-income people of color, now face foreclosure. Often, home foreclosures are clustered in specific neighborhoods. This concentration can virtually hollow out communities and dramatically drive down the potential resale cost of these foreclosed properties. This is a double whammy of individual loss and neighborhood deterioration.

But there’s a potential upside: These low costs present an opportunity to create something that the market has not: affordable homes.

Cities and towns can buy these homes for well-below market value. Then, they can fix them up and resell them at truly affordable prices. Covenants would require that these homes remain affordable for decades. The result? Communities could create a lasting pool of affordable housing.

The experiment is already underway. Birmingham, Ala., uses a federal program to buy foreclosed homes for as little as $1 each. The homes are then refurbished and resold. This helps stop the pernicious spread of blight.

This strategy isn’t new. Community Land Trusts started in the 1960s and have popped up in more than 35 states. These nonprofit trusts buy up properties. Some are individual homes and vacant lots that have fallen into disrepair; others have been taken over by local governments through tax liens.

Land trusts renovate these properties and return them to the market at affordable prices. This helps communities across the country create a stable and reliable source of good housing for working people.

The mortgage crisis has devastated families and communities across the nation. But every disaster offers opportunity. There are blueprints and tools available to rebuild our communities. Now we have to harness the creative energy to get the job done.

KAI RYSSDAL: Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO of the PolicyLink Institute based in Oakland, Calif.

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