This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
• Kari Taylor Schreck’s home, which she shares with her husband Jay, is filled with various shades of blues — from a deep navy to a bright turquoise. Paintings of desert landscapes with endless horizons line the walls. It is bright and cool and outside each window there’s a view of the red rock that millions of tourists travel to the town each year to see.
The Moab home is not only a quiet and lovely refuge from the desert heat, but part of a growing archipelago of affordable dwellings in an increasingly unaffordable community.
After building the house and securing a loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the couple moved in November 2022.
While they are homeowners, they don’t own the land — they pay a $60 monthly fee to lease it.
The land is owned by the Moab Area Community Land Trust, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide permanent affordable housing for residents in Grand County, Moab and northern San Juan County.
The organization’s first project, Arroyo Crossing, where the Schrecks live, is on about 41 acres of donated land a few blocks off U.S. Highway 191 on the south side of town. The plan is to turn the land into a 300-unit subdivision with single family homes, townhomes, cottages and apartments. In mid-June, about 25 units were occupied.
“We had our first homeowners move in September of last year,” said Kaitlin Myers, executive director of the Moab Area Community Land Trust. “It was a day that I will never forget for the rest of my life.”
The trust is working with developers and other nonprofits. The single family homes built in the first phase all utilized the USDA mutual self-help program that two affordable housing nonprofit builders, the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah and Community Rebuilds, administered. The Utah Housing Corp. is building 24 one- and two-bedroom cottages in Arroyo Crossing.
The people taking advantage of the program range from river guides to city workers.
“People who are the backbone, the workforce of Moab, get a chance to have a home and raise a family,” said Kari Taylor Schreck.
Across Utah, middle-class families are struggling to edge their way into homeownership. In the last five years, housing prices in Utah roughly doubled, outpacing incomes and inflation, according to a February policy brief published by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. The same brief noted that in 2022 the income required to finance the median-price, single-family home rose to $183,257.
As the affordable housing crisis deepens, cities across Utah are rethinking the traditional models of achieving homeownership.
Community land trusts are one of several tools that could alleviate the crisis.
“The beauty of the organization of a community land trust is that people are buying the home but not the land underneath it,” explained Anthony Flint, senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “If you take the land out of the equation then you’re dealing with a different scenario in terms of the cost and the price of the home.”
The Tribune found five communities here — from Utah to Washington counties that are either exploring, building or operating a community land trust.
What is a community land trust?
Community land trusts do what their name implies — they hold land in a trust. Unlike land trusts that preserve open spaces, CLTs preserve affordability.
The nonprofit or municipality that owns the trust issues a long-term lease on the land (often for 99 years) and people buy the home on top of that land. When and if the homeowner decides to move, there’s a cap on how much they can sell the house for — ensuring that the property remains affordable in perpetuity.
“It’s a place for people to live,” Flint said. “There’s no house flipping or overcharging of rents.”
The model for community land trusts emerged from Albany, Ga., during the civil rights movement, said Tony Pickett, the chief executive officer for Grounded Solutions — a national nonprofit focused on community land trusts and other affordable housing programs.
Slater and C.B. King, cousins of Martin Luther King Jr., helped establish the first community land trust, New Communities, in 1969 to help Black farmers facing eviction notices after advocating for equal rights, Pickett said.
“They needed to do something to intervene in that process,” he said. The brothers traveled to Israel to learn about the kibbutz and adapted some of the ideas to work in the rural South.
It’s important to understand “the history of inequity and racial bias that was baked into the housing policies of the federal and state and local governments over decades,” Pickett said. Policies that “really disadvantaged Black and other communities of color from actually owning land and enjoying the benefits of homeownership.”
While families who move into a home in a community land trust might not get a huge return on their investment, a later sale can provide enough for a downpayment on an unsubsidized, market rate home.
“And the beauty of the model is that the original home that they sold is still affordable for another low- and moderate-income family who needs a home,” Pickett said. “So we’ve created this stock of permanently affordable housing that serves multiple families over time, which is the advantage that this approach has over some of the other more traditional homeownership subsidy programs.”
Utah’s history with land trusts
Utah’s first community land trust began in Park City.
The ritzy ski town has struggled with housing affordability for decades, said Scott Loomis, who served as the executive director of Mountainlands Community Housing Trust from 2001 to 2021. The organization was founded in 1993 and its first project focused on creating affordable housing requirements in Deer Valley, Loomis said.
The nonprofit started building and acquiring homes in the early 2000s and often utilized deed restrictions that limited prices and potential buyers. “We looked at every possible model and every possible way to do it,” Loomis said.
A developer donated land to Mountainlands around 2010 and the trust decided to retain the value of the land. When tackling housing affordability, “you just have to grind away with utilizing all the resources that are out there,” Loomis said. “And the CLT is just a model that works in certain situations.”
In the capital city, NeighborWorks Salt Lake recently started a community land trust. The nonprofit is considering placing two projects in the trust. The nonprofit has long focused on building wealth for families through homeownership, although the skyrocketing cost of land in the county has made their mission increasingly difficult.
“I think all nonprofit community developers are thinking about land trusts because of the cost of land and the cost of development,” said NeighborWorks CEO Maria Garciaz.
“You build wealth for families through homeownership,” Garciaz said. Shared equity might not build as much wealth as traditional ownership structures, but Garciaz said it’s still a good first step.
There are some downsides to the CLT model that NeighborWorks Salt Lake is still working out.
“When we buy the land, we use our own money,” said Garciaz, “We tie up that money for 99 years, so it prevents us from continuing to buy land to do other projects.”
NeighborWorks Salt Lake hopes to partner with municipalities that could provide grants to purchase land or hold the land in a trust to free up funds.
The Salt Lake City Council authorized the creation of a community land trust in 2017, said Blake Thomas, director of the Department of Community and Neighborhoods.
Homes in the community land trust aren’t congregated in one development like in Moab, but scattered throughout the city — primarily on the west side and in central city.
“The homebuyer purchases the housing improvements, which is just another way of saying the home, and enters into a ground lease on the city’s land at a below market rate,” Thomas explained. Those ground leases are typically $50 a month.
The city also has a mortgage assistance program for those making 80% of the area median income — $76,350 for a family of three — and below. The city oversees more than 200 mortgages with an option to buy the home back if the owner decides to sell within 15 years. When the city decides to do a buyback, it can place that home in the trust, Thomas said.
There are currently 18 single family homes and properties in the Salt Lake City community land trust.
The Provo City Housing Authority is also looking into starting a community land trust. Just six months ago a group in Washington County created the Southwest Utah Community Land Trust. Negotiations to acquire land are underway.
“Everybody just loves the idea,” said Sharlene Wilde, executive director of NeighborWorks Mountain Country Home Solutions. “It’s all community driven.”
The focus of the Southwest Utah Community Land Trust is on attainable housing, Wilde said.
“These are people that would normally, if we weren’t in such a high cost market, be able to afford a home.”
Funds are needed in the early stages of starting a community land trust, and having a dedicated staffer to start also helps.
“The other big thing is access to land for housing,” said Pickett, with Grounded Solutions.
Trusts can buy land, find a donor, or partner with local governments, which can sometimes repurpose vacant or underutilized land.
Mortgages and financing for community land trust homes can also be tricky.
Although creating a community land trust isn’t simple or quick, the potential for the model to boost affordable housing stock for decades makes it appealing.
“We can’t solve it all, but we need to make a significant contribution to reducing that deficit of affordability that is all across the country,” Pickett said.
Back in Moab, Kari Taylor Schreck, 67, is an artist and Jay Schreck, 70, takes tourists on guided trips through the area’s national parks.
They sold their home in Idaho in 2016 and moved to be close to their grown children, who also live in Moab. Although they had good credit and a fine income, owning a home in the community seemed impossible and rents were rising.
The Moab Area Community Land Trust provided the Schrecks with a way to stay, to be near their family and remain in a town with people they’ve come to love. Their monthly housing costs are about $1,200.
The couple has gotten to know the other families in the neighborhood who are also working to build their own homes. “Everybody works on everybody’s roofs,” Kari said, “and everybody works helping to install everybody’s windows.”
Arroyo Crossing — still bustling with construction — provides more than just affordable housing. There are children and grandparents. People starting families. Artists and river guides.
The ties and sense of place that so often dissolve when money floods a town are strengthening. It is a community. A place to call home.
For additional information on community land trusts readers can visit Grounded Solutions Network here.
People across Utah can find loan information and assistance at the Utah Housing Corporation page here.