My View: Expand land trusts to stem crisis
My first thoughts upon reading Mark Kirchmeier's "Portlanders shut out of chance to own a home" (May 18) is that the article may be leading down the wrong path in terms of housing affordability and equality. Perhaps the current homeownership system that promotes housing as a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit is part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Perhaps we need more systemic solutions to the housing crisis than simply getting more people into that system.
First, we need the whole new system of land tenure that the Community Land Trust offers. Land trusts take land off the private-commodity, speculative market and put it into public trust while still allowing for security, equity and legacy in one's housing. Through a shared equity system, land trusts are able to capture the value that the entire community creates, ultimately keeping the structures on their land permanently affordable.
In other cities in the U.S., land trusts can and do provide ownership and rental opportunities — both residential and small business. Portland's land trust, Proud Ground, has been focused solely on homeownership. Hence, it is forced into the same unaffordable market Kirchmeier describes.
Other cities throughout North America seem to be moving forward on using land trusts to prevent displacement and skyrocketing costs far faster than Portland. They are doing it — often in conjunction with land-banking at planned transit stations, with repossessed properties and with other publicly owned land. They are also building up, rather than going out to where housing/land is cheapest. (See my LinkedIn article pointing to how quickly Denver, Atlanta, Vancouver, B.C., and perhaps even New York City are moving: Community Land Trust Concept Gaining Ground Fast (http://bit.ly/CLTGainingFast).
While Kirchmeier — and the ECONorthwest research he reports on — seem to bemoan the loss of detached single-family home ownership to a large segment of Portlanders, maybe we should instead realize that the homeownership system, as presently constructed, has been one of the institutions causing the greatest inequity.
Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, in his May 9, 2017, article in the New York Times Magazine, "How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality: An enormous entitlement in the tax code props up home prices — and overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy and the upper middle class," (http://bit.ly/DesmondTaxCode), gives some data about why I say this.
We could be pushing our members of Congress to address this enormous entitlement in the tax code — the mortgage interest deduction — that Desmond and many other researchers have come to see as a systemic problem. We could be pushing the enormous real estate lobby out of the way — especially the National Association of Realtors and National Association of Home Builders.
Regarding the tax code, we could be pushing our state legislators for action on reforming the Oregon mortgage interest deduction via HB 2006. Oregon's mortgage interest deduction is the state'e biggest housing subsidy — $1.1 billion in the next budget cycle. Yet it benefits only three out of 10 Oregon taxpayers — with the bulk of the subsidy going to those at the higher-income end rather than those most affected by the housing crisis.
To sum up, our response to being shut out of homeownership needs to be to look at how and why that system has gotten us into the predicament of gross inequity that we now find ourselves in — and then address those root causes. For starters, I suggest diving deeply into how we can expand our Community Land Trust model and working to change the mortgage interest deduction at state and federal levels.