Ribbon cutting this Wednesday for five new condos in Union Square
(Somerville Wire) – Somerville is celebrating the first acquisition of permanently affordable homes on community-owned land this week.
The five-unit condo building at 7 Summer St. in Union Square is the first development project of the Somerville Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that will steward the land in perpetuity, and sell the condos to five low- and moderate-income households that win an upcoming lottery to purchase these below-market rate units.
Incorporated in 2019, the SCLT was established to create and preserve affordable housing, prevent displacement of low- and moderate-income residents, and promote neighborhood stability. The member-led nonprofit relies on a network of more than 100 community volunteers. Earlier this year, the group was able to hire its first staff person, Executive Director Miranda Strominger.
“We’re really excited to be able to offer affordable homeownership in Union Square, which is experiencing a lot of change, a lot of loss of affordability. I think it’s remarkable the homes that we’re able to offer there,” Strominger said in an interview this week.
The SCLT is planning to launch a lottery process this month, open to first-time homebuyers. The application process will be open for 60 days, and then five qualifying candidates will be chosen by lottery to have the opportunity to purchase a unit.
There are three two-bedroom units available to households with a combined annual gross income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income. There is one one-bedroom and one two-bedroom unit available to households whose incomes are at 110 percent of AMI or lower.
For a two-person household, those gross income limits are currently $89,500 and $123,376, respectively.
The CLT owns the land in perpetuity, and the buyers will own the “improvements on the land,” which is the building. Through this ownership structure, “we make sure that the units stay affordable forever,” Strominger said.
Financing for this project included about $1.2 million from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the city agency responsible for preservation and creation of affordable rental and homeownership units, and about $1.3 million through the city’s Community Development Block Grant program.
“They are technically loans but they will stay in the project forever. We call it permanent financing,” Strominger explained.
In addition, Winter Hill Bank provided a bridge loan to help fund the project until the SCLT sells the condos to residents.
The SCLT acquired 7 Summer St. after the condos had already been built.
“The site was developed by the owner, who was a neighbor. It was a vacant lot that she owned. And she has an interest in seeing more affordable housing in Somerville. And so she split the lot, got the permits, got this building built, and then it was clear, as it was coming towards the end of construction, that it was just going to be hard for her to get the units to market as affordable units, and so at the request of the city, the CLT came in to help make that happen,” said Strominger.
“It was lucky and unusual. We don’t expect future projects to go exactly this way,” she added. Future projects will depend on which properties become available, what funding is available, and what priorities are expressed by the community.
“We’re thinking about the possibility of acquiring currently vacant sites, or sites for redevelopment,” she said. In that case, they would need to work with developers who do affordable housing projects.
“We’re also in conversation with multiple homeowners in Somerville who want to look into donating their homes to the Community Land Trust, people who want to take the resources they have and make sure that they remain within the community and help preserve affordability in Somerville,” she said.
Donations can happen in a variety of ways. “You can donate your home outright. You can write it into your will that you’ll donate it when you pass. And then there’s something called a charitable sale, which is a below-market sale… The difference between the market price and what you sell it for can be factored into a tax deduction as a charitable contribution,” she explained.
Strominger expressed confidence that the SCLT will be able to offer affordable rental units as well as homeownership opportunities in the future.
“There will be more opportunities than we can follow through on,” she said. “There’s just a big need.”
Strominger grew up in the Boston area but more recently worked in the San Francisco Bay Area. In comparison with her previous experiences, “I have been so struck by the community and political energy in Somerville. There’s just so much energy behind the Community Land Trust, and excitement about the model, and excitement about community control, not just over land and housing but over public space, decisions that affect public life in Somerville. It’s been really wonderful to work with the city of Somerville.”
The public is invited to a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 10 a.m. at 7 Summer St., featuring Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, Community Land Trust members, city housing officials, and other community members.
Photo credit: Somerville Community Land Trust board and volunteers in front of 7 Summer Street. Photo courtesy of the Somerville Community Land Trust.
Linda Pinkow is a reporter for the Somerville Wire. She is also a development consultant for the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.