“Hello!” Anne Griffith called out as she unlocked the front door of a recently purchased home in the Elmhurst neighborhood of East Oakland. Though the house was purchased in foreclosure, and has stood empty for months, Griffith expected an answer to her call. She got one.
“Hello, who’s there!” a man’s voice demanded from a back bedroom as Griffith swung open the door. “The owner,” Griffith shot back.
The man left sheepishly, though evidence of his stay remained in the thick cigarette smoke that hung in the air. The squatter is just one of the challenges involved in purchasing and renovating foreclosed homes in the neighborhood, said Griffith. She’s the executive director of the Oakland Community Land Trust, or OakCLT, which owns the home. There’s also graffiti, stolen copper and years of neglect to overcome before putting the houses back on the market. Once renovations are finished, there’s also the challenge of selling it: finding owners who’d like to live in the East Oakland neighborhood.
Land trusts have been around for decades, Griffith said, but are often unfamiliar to prospective homebuyers in Oakland. Trusts purchase homes, usually homes abandoned by their owners, in an effort to revive low-income areas and provide low-income people with stable housing. After buying and rehabilitating the houses, land trusts sell the homes—but not the land beneath the house—to low-income buyers.
The land continues to belong to the trust, and the homeowner pays a lease fee. The house belongs to the owners like any other home, and can be passed onto children or sold. When the home is sold, owners make a profit based on formula connected to the rate of inflation, but are guaranteed a return of at least two percent. The land trust will then sell the home to another low-income buyer.
OakCLT formed in 2009 to deal with the increasing number of foreclosures in Oakland that followed the financial crisis of 2008.
The house in Elmhurst is one of ten that the land trust owns in the neighborhood. Shortly after the trust formed, they got a grant from HUD, and started purchasing foreclosed homes in targeted areas called neighborhood stabilization zones. So far the trust has purchased 17 houses, six of which have been rehabbed and are ready for purchase.
They’ll sell for prices about 20 to 30 percent below market price, and the total monthly costs rival the rent on a comparable two-bedroom apartment, at about $1,127 a month.