Permanent affordability
Amanda Rhein, executive director of the Atlanta Land Trust, at one of its homes that was renovated with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

By Maria Saporta

As Atlanta struggles to develop affordable housing, one model for permanent affordability is gaining traction.

The Atlanta Land Trust has just completed a $13.9 million campaign to develop three housing communities in the city with a total of 120 units — 90 of which will be permanently affordable. 

The three communities are:

  • The Avenue at Oakland City (1091 Tucker Ave.) — a 36-unit project that will include townhomes in five buildings. The first phase with 15 units is already under construction.
  • The Trust at Oakland City (1024 Donnelly Ave.) — a 3.5-acre site featuring 42 mixed-income housing with 42 units. Construction on the first phase with six units is expected to begin later this summer.
  • The Trust at East Lake (697 Fayetteville Road) — a 2-acre site that will feature 40 one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The first phase with eight units began earlier this year.

In addition to these three communities, the Atlanta Land Trust has 15 single-family homes under development.

A rendering of the Trust at Oakland City townhome development. (Special: Atlanta Land Trust.)

“We have a lot of units in development right now,” said Amanda Rhein, executive director of the Atlanta Land Trust since August 2018. “Our goal is to get to 300 units by 2025 of single-family homes and townhomes.”

What makes this model unique in the world of affordable housing is that the Atlanta Land Trust owns the land while the homeowner owns the building. That way, Atlanta Land Trust can ensure the affordable housing units it develops will be permanently affordable.

Rhein said 63 percent of homeowners remain in their units for about six or seven years when they move on to traditional home ownership.

“We are creating a pathway to traditional home ownership for people for whom it’s out of reach,” Rhein said. “Our program is a stepping stone. We are creating home ownership for people who want to own a home in the city of Atlanta but are priced out.”

Currently, the Atlanta Land Trust has more than 400 people on its waiting list. All of them have been qualified as eligible potential homebuyers.

“There’s a supply-demand imbalance,” said Rhein, which the Atlanta Land Trust campaign is trying to address.

Groundbreaking for the Trust at East Lake earlier this year. (Special: Atlanta Land Trust.)

The philanthropic community, as well as corporate and public partners, came through, enabling the Atlanta Land Trust to exceed its $12.3 million goal.

The major contributors included: the CF Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, the East Lake Foundation, the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta as well as BeltLine Tax Allocation District funding, Invest Atlanta and Georgia Investments in Housing Grant.

In addition to the campaign funding, the Atlanta Land Trust received a $750,000 grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to build homes on four lots on the Westside.

“Today, land trusts are generally understood and perceived as a really important solution,” Rhein said. “I hear a lot of people talking about permanent affordability. That was not part of the conversation before.”

Interestingly enough, Georgia holds a special place in history when it comes to community land trusts.

The first community land trust in the nation — New Communities Inc. — was formed in 1970 by Charles and Shirley Sherrod, who were leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Albany. It was all part of the civil rights initiative known as the Albany Movement.

In June 1968, Charles Sherrod, Slater King, a real estate expert, and six others traveled to Israel to learn about housing development and cooperatives on community-owned land. Upon their return, Sherrod raised more than $1 million to buy 5,735 acres of farmland. At the time, it was the largest tract of land owned by Blacks in the United States, according to Mtaminika Youngblood, who first became associated with the Sherrods and their efforts in 1969. 

The effort to own land came out of SNCC’s voter registration drives. Often when Black farmhands registered to vote, they would be kicked off the land that was owned by Whites who were hostile towards Blacks seeking the right to vote.

That’s when Charles Sherrod and others realized Blacks needed to own land so they could control their own destiny.

Mtaminika Youngblood in the center during the filming of “The Arc of Justice” in 2010. John Davis stands next to her, and Shirley Sherrod is seated wearing pink. (Special: Mtaminika Youngblood.)

New Communities Inc. was formed in 1970, and it is recognized to have been the first community land trust in the nation. A documentary — “The Arc of Justice” — was released in 2016 that chronicles the trials and tribulations of New Communities Inc.

“It was hard to have civil rights if you had no economic autonomy,” Youngblood said in a phone interview. “The idea was to actually build a new community with housing, shops and service, and the economic basis of it was farming.”

After Youngblood graduated from New York University in 1971 she moved to Albany where she first lived with the Sherrods. She received shelter, food and transportation as well as a weekly stipend of $10. She worked there until 1977 when she decided to get her MBA at Atlanta University, now Clark Atlanta University.

“I did not know at the time it was a community land trust,” Youngblood said. Years later, she saw a power point by the “grandfather of land trusts” — John Davis — who had a slide highlighting New Communities Inc. as the first in the country.

“We just did the work to make it successful because it was part of the movement,” Youngblood said. “The point was to build a new community for the community with agriculture as the economic base.”

Youngblood later became executive director of the Historic District Development Corp., which developed housing in the Sweet Auburn Avenue corridor. For the properties that HDDC didn’t own, units that started out as affordable eventually became market-rate as homeowners sold their residences. But if the land was owned by a community entity, then the homes would remain affordable during subsequent sales of the units.

Filmmaker Mark Lipman puts a mic on Charles Sherrod (who passed away earlier this year) during the filming of “The Arc of Justice” in 2010. (Photo by Mtaminika Youngblood.)

“The community land trust is simply the community’s ownership of the land,” said Youngblood, who is now living in Fresno, Calif. “If you don’t control the dirt, you don’t control anything.”

The idea for community land trusts in Atlanta was introduced back in the 2000s when Valerie Wilson headed the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership — working with several community leaders, including Youngblood. 

“There was a missed opportunity in the 2000s to create community land trusts all along the BeltLine with permanent affordability,” Youngblood said. “We were thinking of land trusts not just for housing but for businesses as well.”

But the effort to ensure permanent affordability along the BeltLine through land trusts was not successful. New leaders came on board with different priorities. Also, an economic recession didn’t help.

“It didn’t work,” Rhein said. “The model was too new.”

The Atlanta Land Trust was restructured in 2009, and under Rhein’s leadership, the model is finally being implemented. The nonprofit is open to helping other grassroots organizations that are interested in implementing the community land trust model.

“We are sharing our knowledge, and we’re hoping to collaborate,” Rhein said. “I’m trying to share the power with others.”

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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  1. Thank you for your good article on New Communities. I think you will find that Shirley Sherrod credits Slater King and Bob Swann for initiating the New Communities project and for arranging the trip to Israel to study the lease agreements of the Jewish National Fund.

    You will find more here: Including a pdf of Robert Swann’s 1972 book launching the CLT movement and a current directory of CLTs across the country.

    Again, thank you for raising attention to this important tool for redistributing access to land in a manner that addresses wealth inequity and the climate crisis.

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