At Lincoln House

The Weblog of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

February 25, 2015

A Case-Shiller Index for China

     The Peking University--Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy and the Hang Lung Center for Real Estate at Tsinghua University recently launched a new initiative to better track the price of housing in rapidly urbanizing China. The China Quality-Controlled Urban Housing Price Indices were announced late last year at a press conference in Beijing attended by media, researchers, and real estate professionals.
     The urban housing hedonic price indices were constructed for eight urban housing markets, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Dalian, Wuhan, and Xi’an. The joint team worked for the last four years to develop the indices, with original housing price data provided by a partner, Shenzhen World Union Appraisal Co. Ltd. The core methodology for compiling the indices is a variant of the hedonic repeated-sale hybrid model, first developed in the Case-Shiller Home Price Indices in the U.S. During the construction of the indices, several international experts offered technical advice, including Karl “Chip” Case, co-founder of the Case-Shiller Index, former Lincoln Institute president Gregory K. Ingram, Joyce Man, former director of the China program and now director of the Indiana University Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business , David Geltner, and Daniel McMillen, a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute. The indices, available online, will be updated on a quarterly basis and will be expanded to cover more urban housing markets where data become available.

February 13, 2015

State legislators confront revenue volatility, tax reform

     State legislators from each of the New England states attended the annual Economic Perspectives on State and Local Taxes seminar at the Lincoln Institute last month, a convening organized in partnership with the New England Public Policy Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Tax and fiscal experts from across the country discussed revenue volatility, property taxes, infrastructure funding, and state tax reform.
     Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, provided an overview of revenue volatility in state budgets across the country, noting that in FY2015 revenue collections have outpaced projections in seven states, are on target in 26 states, and are coming in below estimates in 10 states. Yolanda Kodrzycki, vice president and director of the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, presented research that showed state tax revenues have become more cyclical -- less stable over business cycles -- during the 2000s than in the 1990s and 1980s for 39 of the 50 states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Bo Zhao, senior economist at the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, noted that rainy day funds, one solution to revenue volatility, were generally too low in many New England states.
     Addressing current trends in property taxation, Phyllis Resnick, lead economist at the Colorado Futures Center, documented shifts in funding responsibilities and reduced accountability in Colorado's experience with TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment. Adam Langley, senior research analyst at the Lincoln Institute, spoke about two tools policymakers can use to provide direct property tax relief to  homeowners: homestead exemptions and circuit breakers. Although all New England states use these mechanisms, they often cover small groups of taxpayers and provide modest benefits. In an update on tax increment finance (TIF), David Merriman, a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute, and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, predicted that government budget transparency will become a more prominent issue and that there will be increased opportunities to re-engineer TIF.
     Frank Shafroth, the director of the Center for State and Local Government Leadership at George Mason University, highlighted challenges in funding infrastructure. He focused primarily on the federal government’s inability to fund needed infrastructural repairs, and emphasized that states will be heavily affected due to this inaction.
      In a final discussion of state tax reform. Billy Hamilton, executive vice chancellor and CFO of Texas A&M University Systems, and columnist for State Tax Notes, explored the usefulness, or lack thereof, of tax commissions. He argued that the tax studies of 25 years ago used to consider the state’s tax system as a whole but more recently states have made use of tax studies that focus on a specific issue, such as tax competitiveness. Joseph Henchman, vice president of Legal and State Projects at The Tax Foundation, described recent tax reform initiatives including those in the District of Columbia, Indiana, New York, and North Carolina. Matthew Gardner, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, concluded the seminar with a discussion of tax fairness. ITEP’s recently released report Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, Fifth Edition found ten states that had the most regressive tax systems: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. All presentations are available for download.

February 09, 2015

Top 5 innovations in land conservation from around the world

     Five winning essays about innovations in land conservation, from a competition run by the Lincoln Institute in partnership with GlobalPost and The Groundtruth Project, have been smartly packaged on The Huffington Post. The new ideas in sustainability and finance, first presented at the 2014 World Parks Congress in Australia, and appearing as individual full-length essays at The Groundtruth Project site over several weeks late last year, highlight the activities of the following:

The full story at The Huffington Post Green site can be viewed here.

January 20, 2015

Lincoln Institute Joins UN-HABITAT’s World Urban Campaign

WorldUrbanCampaignThe Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has joined the World Urban Campaign, the advocacy and partnership platform for cities in the twenty first century, as an associate partner. The goal of the World Urban Campaign, coordinated by UN-Habitat and driven by a large number of committed partners from around the world, is to place the urban agenda at the highest level in development policies. The engagement of the Lincoln Institute comes as part of the run-up to United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) , to be held in Quito, Ecuador in 2016.
      Habitat III will take place 40 years after the first conference on human settlements, Habitat I, was held in Vancouver, and the world’s urban and housing challenges were first internationally recognized. Twenty years later, in 1996 in Istanbul, Habitat II served as the place of negotiation on future policies for sustainable urban development. The Habitat III conference will address sustainable urbanization and the future of urban spaces. It also will serve as an opportunity to assess the state of global cities, to develop solutions, and to revisit our shared urban future.
     The Lincoln Institute, an active participant over the last several years in UN-HABITAT’s World Urban Forum, brings to the conversation several critical components of the agenda, including the tracking of real-time growth in metropolitan areas in the updated Atlas of Urban Expansion; the importance of land policy in the many challenges posed by irregular or informal settlement; best practices and available policies and tools including value capture,  to support municipal fiscal health and finance urban infrastructure,; and current strategies in permanently affordable housing including inclusionary housing and community land trusts. The Lincoln Institute is also active in facilitating the coverage of global urban issues through the Journalists Academy and other efforts, and is organizing a pre-summit gathering later this year of affiliated academic and research organizations.
     Habitat III is in keeping with the view that while cities are at the heart of today’s global crisis, they are also the source of solutions for a sustainable future.
     The World Urban Campaign is guided by seven key principles:

  • Accessible and pro-poor land, infrastructure, services, mobility and housing;
  • Socially inclusive, gender sensitive, healthy and safe development;Environmentally sound and carbon-efficient built environment;
  • Participatory planning and decision making;
  • Vibrant and competitive local economies promoting decent work and livelihoods;
  • Assurance of non-discrimination and equal rights to the city; and
  • Empowering cities and communities to plan for and effectively manage adversity and change.

       The World Urban Campaign also includes the advocacy initiative titled ‘I’m a City Changer,’ aimed at raising awareness about positive urban change by engaging citizens in voicing issues and solutions to change their urban communities, and to achieve green, productive, safe, healthy, inclusive, and well-planned cities.

January 15, 2015

Tracking how much tax breaks fail cities

     Property tax incentives are used by local governments around the country to try to attract new business investment to their communities. The incentives can reduce property taxes flowing to local governments by millions of dollars, but there is often very little—if any—public disclosure of the terms of these deals.  That lack of transparency could soon change in a major way, if a proposal by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board is adopted.
     GASB’s proposed guidelines would require state and local governments to disclose information on the number of tax abatement agreements they have in place and the total dollar amount of taxes abated in the current year. The guidelines would not require disclosure of the names of recipients.
     Publicly available information on tax abatements would bring much needed transparency to the debate about property tax incentives. One of the main recommendations in the Lincoln Institute Policy Focus Report Rethinking Property Tax Incentives for Business is for state and local governments to publish information on incentives and conduct assessments. To date, very few governments have actually provided this information, so the GASB guidelines could be a game-changer. Good Jobs First has put together a massive database called the Subsidy Tracker, with information on over 250,000 business incentives, yet still the database is not comprehensive. The breadth of information that would result from the GASB guidelines would make it much easier for researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of property tax incentives to determine whether they are achieving their objective.
     "We believe the data resulting from this new rule will create vast new bodies of scholarship in state and local finance, tax policy, government transparency, economic development, regionalism and sprawl, public education finance, and campaign finance," says Good Jobs First director Greg LeRoy.
      Rethinking Property Tax Incentives for Business identified five types of property tax incentives: general property tax abatement programs, firm-specific tax abatements, tax increment financing (TIF), enterprise zones, and payments in lieu of taxes for business (PILOTs). The GASB guidelines might not extend to cover all five types of property tax incentives. In contrast, the Lincoln Institute report recommended improved disclosure for all types of property tax incentives, including TIF and especially PILOTs since they are the type of incentive for which there is the least data.
     The campaign for transparency was covered recently by Next City. Instructions for those interested in commenting to the GASB now through January 30 are here

January 08, 2015

Former transportation secretary Ray LaHood joins Lincoln Institute board

Ray LaHoodFormer US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a leading advocate for infrastructure investment as co-chair of  Building America's Future, and Mimi Brown, until last year the Commissioner of Rating and Valuation for the Government of Hong Kong,  have joined the Board of Directors for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
     “We welcome Ray LaHood and applaud his leadership in transportation and infrastructure, which are critical components of our work in global urbanization, sustainable cities, and land policy,” said Kathryn J. Lincoln, chair of the board and chief investment officer for the Lincoln Institute. “Mimi Brown’s expertise and experience in the property tax and valuation will further enhance our global reach.”
     LaHood, who served from 1995-2009 in the U.S. House of Representatives from the 18th District of Illinois, was transportation secretary from 2009 to 2013 under President Obama, overseeing an agency with more than 55,000 employees and a $70 billion budget in charge of air, maritime and surface transportation. His tenure as secretary was marked by landmark efforts to improve safety in every mode of transportation, new fuel efficiency requirements, and improvements to America’s infrastructure, including building or replacing 350,000 miles of highway, repairing 20,000 bridges, and renewing or constructing 6,000 miles of rail track.
     As a lifelong Republican, LaHood worked across party lines and frequently reminded partisans that, “there is no such thing as a Democratic road or a Republican bridge.” He joined Building America’s Future -- a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure --as a co-chair in January of 2014. Founded by former Governor Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, BAF boasts a politically diverse membership of state and local elected officials from across the nation. BAF is currently co-chaired by LaHood, Bloomberg, and Rendell. LaHood is also a senior policy advisor at the global law firm DLA Piper.
     Mimi Brown qualified as a Chartered Surveyor in 1979. She is a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a Fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, which she helped form nearly 30 years ago. She is a member of the Board of Advisors of the International Property Tax Institute and a member of the International Association of Assessing Officers Special Committee on International Outreach.
     She began her career at Gerald Eve & Co. in London and joined the Hong Kong government in 1977. Throughout her career with the Hong Kong SAR Government, she amassed extensive experience not only in the field of rating and valuation work but also in public policy formulation and administration. From 1995 to 2000, she worked in the Government Property Agency and was responsible for the portfolio management of all non-specialized government properties situated locally and overseas. She retired in 2014 from her post as the Commissioner of Rating and Valuation.
     The other members of the Lincoln Institute board include former Interior secretary and Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt; Roy Bahl, Regents Professor of Economics, Emeritus, at Georgia State University; Carolina Barco, former ambassador of Colombia to the United States; Thomas M. Becker, president of The Chautauqua Institution; Raphael Bostic, director of the Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise at the University of Southern California; Anthony Coyne, president of Mansour, Gavin, LPA in Cleveland; Alberto Harth, president of Civitas in San Salvador, El Salvador; George W. McCarthy, president and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; Bruce Lincoln, president of Innervizion Surf Company in Chandler, Arizona; David C. Lincoln, president of VIKA Corp. and chairman of the Lincoln Laser Company; John G. Lincoln III, former senior engineer at CH2M-Hill in Boise, Idaho; Johannes F. Linn, a resident senior scholar at the Emerging Markets Forum in Washington, D.C.; Thomas Nechyba, professor of economics and public policy studies at Duke University; Kenneth T.W. Pang, adjunct professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University; Jill Schurtz, Executive Director, St. Paul Teachers’ Retirement Fund Association, in St. Paul, Minn., and Andrea L. Taylor, former director of citizenship and public affairs, North America, Microsoft Corporation.
      The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is the leading resource for key issues concerning the use, regulation, and taxation of land. Providing high-quality education and research, the Institute strives to improve public dialogue and decisions about land policy.

December 18, 2014

The Year in Land Policy: 2014

MedellinFrom Ferguson to Medellin, 2014 has been a year of tumult and promise for cities. The World Urban Forum showcased the many ways the former drug capital in Colombia was making life better for poor residents, with gondolas, libraries, and parks. Meanwhile, racial divisions and inequality in St. Louis and other Legacy Cities had a basis in planning decisions and infrastructure investments going back decades. The concept of shared equity housing gained ground, some zombie subdivisions began to make a comeback, and New York City and Connecticut tested the waters with a land value tax. We asked the experts of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy to reflect on what they considered the top stories of the year, and here’s what they said:

-- The Detroit bankruptcy was at center stage for municipal fiscal health and tax policy, says Joan Youngman, chair of the Department of Valuation and Taxation. Earlier this month, federal judge Steven Rhodes approved a restructuring plan to allow the city to emerge from its Chapter 9 filing, cutting $7 bllion in unsecured liabilities and calling for $1.4 billion in reinvestments over 10 years in public services and blight removal. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr plans to resign before the end of the year. But the city’s property tax environment faces daunting challenges, as property values remain far below pre-crisis conditions. Although the city has embarked on a three year citywide reassessment process, tax payments are currently based on inflated and inaccurate assessments. Perhaps even more troubling, property tax delinquency is now at 54%, and Wayne County has begun proceedings on 62,000 new tax foreclosures. Unfortunately, about 80% of tax foreclosed properties sold at auction are again delinquent within two years. The controversy over mass water service termination by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department received global attention. Public officials recognize that water services are essential to households and businesses, but face the challenge of collecting the cost of service. Bankruptcy is helping to rectify Detroit’s fiscal condition, but the city will be grappling with these difficult fiscal issues for the foreseeable future.

-- The top story of 2014 from China was that the country started a difficult structural reform while the economic growth shifted gear to the “New Normal,” a new conservative growth target no more than 7% a year, says Zhi Liu, director of the China program. Among the comprehensive reform directions are a few directly related to urban governance and finance. These included gradual removal of the long-standing Hukou restriction for farmers to move to the cities, land reform that would give farmers development rights, improvement of the local tax system, and acceleration of property tax legislation. These were designed to correct various policy distortions in the urbanization process and build a new governance system for a more urbanized China. While the reform directions were set, the detailed reform roadmaps and actions were yet to be worked out. The key question is whether these reforms get implemented and how soon. The structural changes may slow down the economy in the short-run before paying handsome dividend. By all indication, the reform program was really a major challenge for the country, and there will be a lot to be seen and expected in the next few years.

-- The big story of the year could well turn out to be the big story of the first half of this century, says Armando Carbonell, chair of the Department of Planning and Urban Form: the expected increase in global urban population by about 2.5 billion. Citing the work of former visiting fellow Shlomo “Solly” Angel (Planet of Cities, Atlas of Urban Expansion), The Economist notes how "cities are bound to grow, but they need planning to be liveable." As an alternative to creating new slums, this means anticipating growth and providing infrastructure and serviced land in the right locations, with good access to jobs. And, because global urbanization will collide with the other big disrupter of the century, climate change, these cities will also need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare to adapt to the impacts of extreme weather. And although most of the planet's new urbanization will occur in developing countries, the United States will buck the trend in most developed countries, growing by as many as 100 million new city dwellers by mid-century. There are many positive trends in contemporary U.S. urbanization to build on, including increasing vitality in core cities, but challenges remain, including regenerating Legacy Cities like Detroit, and finding solutions to deal with housing affordability and chronic homelessness.

-- This was the year that value capture gained increasing acceptance as a tool for financing urban development, says Martim Smolka, director of the Latin America program, and author of Implementing Value Capture in Latin America. In value capture, cities seek to harness the big increases in property value that are the direct result of government actions and public investment, and finance affordable housing, parks, and infrastructure in urban development. The municipality of São Paulo took the concept to a new level by reducing all building rights to a floor-area ratio (FAR) of 1; building anything higher requires the purchase of these rights from the city. Also in place are Certificates of Additional Construction Potential bonds (known in Brazil by the name Certificados de Potencial Adicional de Construção or CEPACs), that are auctioned in the stock market. Revenues are being used for social housing and improvements, having arguably the greatest impact in advance of urban development, in the fast-growing city of 10 million.

December 14, 2014

The critical role of property tax in K-12 education

     The property tax has a bedrock role in the funding of K-12 education, and the Lincoln Institute is proud to make new research freely available on the subject in a special issue of the journal Education Finance and Policy. Eight articles in the Fall 2014 issue of the journal can be downloaded without charge from the website of the Association of Education Finance and Policy. 
     A fresh look at the intersection of the property tax and school finance is important for several reasons. Total revenues devoted to public education have fallen in recent years, revenue growth is sluggish in many states, and there are diminished prospects for increased federal funding for K-12 education. Taken together these developments imply that local school districts will be under growing pressure to increase property taxes or to turn to alternative sources of local government revenue.
     An introductory chapter by Lincoln Institute fellows Daphne Kenyon and Andy Reschovsky sets out three themes: the potential for unintended consequences from state legislation; the potential for state school finance and property tax policies to provide greater advantages for high-wealth or high-income school districts than for low-wealth or low-income districts; and the enduring importance of the property tax in the funding of public education in the United States. Among the significant findings of the research is the following:

  • In New York State, sharp cuts in state education aid following the Great Recession were partially offset by property tax increases. On average a reduction of one dollar per pupil in state aid led to a 19-cent increase in property taxes. However, most of the property tax increases in response to the cuts in state aid occurred in school districts with the highest level of per pupil property wealth, a fact that undercuts state efforts to equalize educational opportunities across school districts. (Chakrabarti, Livingston, and Roy)
  • Michigan restricts local school districts from increasing property taxes to fund school operating expenses, and distributes state aid relatively evenly across school districts, although the wealthiest districts tend to receive higher than average levels of per pupil aid. In Ohio, school districts face no limits on raising local revenues and state aid disproportionately benefits the poorest districts. As a result of these policies, Ohio has been much more effective in reducing property-wealth related inequalities in school spending than neighboring Michigan. (Conlin and Thompson) 
  • Since 1997, New York State has provided homeowners with large property tax exemptions through its School Tax Relief (STAR) program. By reducing the cost of education borne by individual homeowners, STAR has induced voters to spend more on education. This increased spending, which is financed through higher property taxes, has the unintended effect of offsetting part of the original property tax relief provided by STAR. The offset is nearly 80 percent in Albany, Buffalo, and Syracuse, and over 40 percent in many of New York’s upstate small cities and rural communities. (Eom, Duncombe, Nguyen-Hoang, and Yinger)
  • Passed by voters in 1980, Massachusetts’ Proposition 2½ limits each local government’s annual increase in property taxes to 2.5 percent. These property tax limits can be increased if local voters approve an override referendum. An unintended consequence of the referendum process has been to increase racial segregation across school districts in Massachusetts. Communities that pass overrides have higher incomes and lower minority enrollments than communities that don’t, and successful overrides appear to reduce minority enrollment. (Zabel)
  • Tax increment financing (TIF) is used by municipal governments in most states as a tool to reduce blight or promote economic development. During the life of a TIF district, no tax revenues generated by increases in the assessed value of the district flow to overlying governments, such as school districts. In Iowa, the establishment of TIF districts has resulted in modest decreases in public school spending, with the largest impacts of TIFs occurring in low-income or low-wealth districts. Once TIFs expire, they do not, however, lead to increased spending. (Nguyen-Hoang)
  • Between 1995 and 2010 the revenues of school-supporting nonprofits, such as parent-teacher associations and charitable school foundations, grew by nearly 350 percent. Despite this growth, on a per pupil basis these organizations provide a very small share of the total revenue of public schools. Furthermore, these non-profit organizations tend to provide assistance to more well-off districts. The evidence shows that contributions from nonprofits do not generally substitute for property tax revenue. Instead, school districts with higher revenues from federal sources and from property taxes also have higher contributions from school supporting charities. (Nelson and Gazley) 
  • Though school districts might be expected to increase reliance on fees and other sources of local nontax revenue, revenues from these sources actually grew at a slower pace. By 2011, they remained under $400 per pupil. The slow growth of school district revenue from fees may be due to the limited opportunities available to most school districts for fee-based financing. (Downes and Killeen)

 

November 14, 2014

Academic institutions are becoming Conservation Catalysts

Conservation_Catalysts_cover_webEfforts to protect jaguar habitats from Mexico to Argentina, coastal areas in southern Australia, and vital ecosystems along the Colorado River all have one thing in common: academic institutions have become the lynchpin to making these initiatives happen.
    The strategic role of these institutions, from colleges and universities to research institutes and field stations, is documented in a new volume published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Conservation Catalysts: The Academy as Nature’s Agent, edited by James N. Levitt. The book is being launched officially today at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.
     Twenty-first-century conservationists are contending with biodiversity loss on an unprecedented scale, compounded by the interrelated threat of climate change. These global challenges call for first-rate talent, highly sophisticated technology, and advanced financial and organizational tools that can be used across jurisdictional boundaries and professional disciplines.
     According to Levitt, a fellow at the Lincoln Institute and a pioneer in the implementation of large landscape conservation, academic institutions have quietly become surprisingly powerful and effective catalysts for integrating all these elements into strategically significant and enduring large landscape conservation initiatives.
      Conservation Catalysts: The Academy as Nature’s Agent gathers more than a dozen first-hand accounts of the long-term impacts academics are making on the ground, from the University of Nairobi to Harvard. With measurable results, their efforts are protecting wildlife habitat, improving water quality, building sustainable economies, and creating better public amenities around the world now and for centuries to come.
      Conservation Catalysts: The Academy as Nature’s Agent will be available for free downloading in its entirety, as part of the Lincoln Institute's continuing innovations in digital publishing.  The book is structured to identify key themes of biodiversity, regional collaboration, and legal and financial mechanisms inherent in conservation at the landscape scale.
      The cases detailed include conservation efforts in Trinidad & Tobago, the Colorado River Delta, Florida’s scrub ecosystem, Canada’s Boreal systems, Maine’s Penobscot River watershed, the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem and Greater Maasailand, and Australia’s Victoria coast. Initiatives covered include the Kenyon College Land Conservation Initiative, the Quiet Corner Initiative at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies,  the Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative of the Harvard Forest, and Colorado College’s Large Landscape Conservation Strategy to Save the Colorado River Basin. The book also includes a poem, “Body of Bark,” by Caroline Harvey.
      A special session is set at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney to mark the book’s publication, on Tuesday, November 18th, 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm at the Protected Planet Pavilion. Jim Levitt will be joined by Gary Tabor, executive director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, fellow at the University of Montana Center for Natural Resource and Environmental Policy, and author of the chapter on the Crown of the Continent initiative; and Geoffrey Wescott, associate professor at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, and author of chapter on coastal zone management in the Australian state of Victoria.
      A critical component of academic institutions as catalysts – students – will also be recognized at IUCN, in the session “Young Conservation Catalysts: Voices of a New Generation”, scheduled for Monday, November 17th, 10:30 am - 12:00 pm in Hall 3 Nth Pod. These young leaders are involved in initiatives worldwide. The speakers, Alessandra Lehmen, Brendan Boepple, Delaney Boyd, Fabian Huwyler, and Priscila Steier, have written essays in a competition led by the Lincoln Institute, that will appear at GlobalPost in the Voices section of The GroundTruth Project, a foundation-supported initiative dedicated to training the next generation of foreign correspondents in the digital age. The commentary highlights social justice, innovation, and change.
       In addition to being a fellow at the Lincoln Institute in the Department of Planning and Urban Form, James N. Levitt is director of the Program on Conservation Innovation at the Harvard Forest, and a senior fellow at Highstead. He has been instrumental in the formation of the Practitioners Network for Large Landscape Conservation and recently brought together more than 30 leaders from around the world to form an international conservation network. 

November 13, 2014

Community land trusts and permanently affordable housing

     Homeownership has lost its luster since 2008, and no wonder – as Americans lost trillions in wealth, many have turned to renting. But as Lincoln Institute president George W. McCarthy and Harold Simon, executive director of the National Housing Institute,write in an op-ed essay, published in The Boston Globe, there is a third way: shared equity housing, in the form of community land trusts.
     In a typical approach, a non-profit takes a long-term ground lease and sells the homes, but not the land underneath, a manageable price to families with low or moderate incomes. If they later decide to sell their home, a cap on resale profit keeps the price low to remain affordable to a new family of similar means.
      The approach brings stability to the wild swings that can be characteristic in housing markets. Foreclosures are virtually nonexistent at one of the most successful CLTs in the country, right here in Boston – the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Roxbury, this fall celebrating its 30th anniversary. Our research has shown that conventional loans are eight times more likely to experience foreclosure than CLT mortgages.
     Yet, sadly, a legislative technicality is preventing CLTs from scaling up; the FHA says it can’t back mortgages for CLTs, in part because of the cap-on-resale-profit provision. “The third path between renting and homeownership is tantalizingly within reach,” McCarthy and Simon write. “It would be a shame if bureaucratic entanglements stood in the way.”
     It’s been a big month for shared equity housing, inclusionary zoning, and CLTs. We were interviewed for this story at Next City magazine, The City Where Real Estate Developers and Housing Activists Agree to Agree, all about a small, dense city neighboring Cambridge, where the Lincoln Institute is located. Somerville, Mass. is confronting sharply increased home prices and speculation, in the face of redevelopment schemes, rezoning, and major new transit infrastructure, including the planned extension of the Green Line. Community activists are rightly concerned about displacement and gentrification.
     In the interview with the writer, we talked about two strategies: inclusionary housing, in place in Boston and Cambridge, where developers are required to provide a certain percentage of affordable homes as part of any new market-rate private development; and CLTs.
    Senior fellow Armando Carbonell provided more context about CLTs in another piece in Next City that ran a few days later, titled Should Community Land Trusts Rank Higher in the Affordable Housing Toolbox? “One of the things that we think is great about community land trusts is that they are pretty stable even in the face of tough economic conditions,” he said.
     CLTs can also act as a bulwark against gentrification, particularly, as our research shows, at transit-oriented development sites. The Role of Community Land Trusts in Fostering Equitable Transit-Oriented Development: Case Studies from Atlanta, Denver, and the Twin Cities, by Robert Hickey, senior research associate at the Center for Housing Policy in Washington, DC., was published as a working paper earlier this year.
     Finally, the Guardian published this article, Could community land trusts offer a solution to the UK’s housing crisis?