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A road home

At Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust, low-income families find a bridge to property ownership



When you consider everything that goes into buying and selling a home, the stats at Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust are impressive. The nonprofit holds 197 homes in its inventory — including a percentage interest in some homes and outright ownership of others — and has partnered with 280 low-income families since opening its doors in 1996. It also owns 37 transitional housing units with Partners In Housing, and 93 rentals with PIH and Greccio Housing.

But really, what's more impressive is how the Land Trust impacts the daily lives of local families.

"I'm actually a homeowner in the program," says Randi Davis, former board member and current resource development and community outreach coordinator.

When she first found the Land Trust, she was 23, a single mom with a 3-year-old son. "I thought I had a decent job. I thought I was doing really, really good, but then I started the loan process because I'd always wanted a home of my own and I found out I couldn't afford anything."

Next month, her son will turn 18, and as she says, "It's just nice to have my son grow up in a home of his own. He's been there for 15 years ... and he's had the same bedroom that entire time. He's been to different schools, because he went to Wasson [High School] and Wasson shut down, so then he had to transfer to Mitchell, and also he was in a special program, a gifted and talented program for a while, so that was at a different school — so he hasn't grown up with the same kids, but he's known the same kids in the neighborhood. I really like that."

At its core, what the Land Trust does is partner with families in homeownership — low-income families who are at or below 80 percent of the area median income, which, as Davis explains, "[is] not low, like you think of low."

"We've got a lot of nurses and CNAs, teachers, vet techs. ... It's the people who are working hard in our community that just can't save up that 20 percent down payment on a house."

The process is fairly straightforward. A family hears about the Land Trust, perhaps through word of mouth, a real estate agent, Craigslist or a flier on a current home for sale. Family members attend a free orientation class and, if they want to move forward, continue on much like any other home buyer would: They acquire a mortgage prequalification — the Land Trust doesn't deal with credit, that's up to the lender to manage — and start the home search with a Realtor of their choice. Prospective homeowners are expected to put at least $1,000 toward the down payment.

Purchase price has to be $160,000 or less, and the home has to be move-in ready and pass all inspections, including meth and radon testing, when necessary. It can, however, be located anywhere in the Pikes Peak region.

"We're scattered all the way up from Woodmen and Powers down to Fountain, the very southern edge of Fountain. ... And everywhere in between," Davis says. "We don't like to do a neighborhood. ... It's just not our thing. We like for families to pick a neighborhood that they want to live in so it's close to school, work, church, family, wherever they want to be."

Davis says that unless a house is already in the Land Trust's inventory, whether from a previous Trust homeowner or one of the nonprofit's new builds, it takes about two months to go to closing so the nonprofit can get its funding lined up. The Land Trust likes to put in at least 20 percent of the purchase price, and in return for this help on the front end, homeowners agree to sell to another eligible buyer when they move on.

"We're on the deed and the note along with the family ... when the family decides to move on, then they sell their share of the home to the next family and we share in the appreciation. That's how we keep the house affordable."

And the Land Trust doesn't just disappear once a home is purchased. Davis explains that it's a supportive-housing program as well — assisting with everything from providing contacts for other community nonprofits such as the Energy Resource Center to helping with loan modifications. "We have a full-time post-purchase support person who helps families — because we're talking low-income families here. They're the first ones that get hit with unemployment or underemployment."

On occasion, the Land Trust will provide no-interest loans to its families.

"One [woman] had a sewer back up and she had to dig out her whole front yard and replace some lines. ... We did a no-interest loan to her so that she could get that done. We don't have a lot of funds to do that, but sometimes we get money from FEMA to do housing assistance and we can help out. ...

"We walk right beside them."

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