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Blacksburg housing: town staff hope to have a land trust proposal soon

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Houses are under construction in the Kinloch subdivision off North Main Street in Blacksburg. The town continues to discuss ways to make a percentage of housing stock more affordable.

BLACKSBURG — Town and Montgomery County staff are working to come up with a proposal on how a community land trust could work and be funded.

Matt Hanratty, assistant to the Blacksburg town manager, said that’s some of the progress on a concept that was presented to town council and the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors earlier this year.

“We have been coordinating working on those efforts with the county, and our hope is after the new year we will meet with the elected bodies again to review what we have come up with,” Hanratty wrote in an email this past week. “The goal is to get buy-in from each elected body and ultimately have something on each of their agendas to essentially create the CLT.”

Hanratty also briefly updated the council on the land trust idea during a recent work session hosted by the elected body.

The land trust is one concept town staff has recently explored to tackle the long-existing hurdle of affordable housing in Blacksburg, where homes have for years been generally more expensive than in much of the New River Valley.

Under a trust, a nonprofit owns the land that a separately owned house is on, Hanratty said. The homeowner and nonprofit have a lease that gives the former the exclusive rights to use the land.

Hanratty has said the trust leads to a permanent affordable housing stock in town and would place a cap on how much the home can appreciate. Instead of relying on typical factors such as sales of similar properties and current market trends, the value would be based on income growth in the area.

Basing the value on income growth keeps the homes under the trust affordable, Hanratty has said.

“Prices are going to keep escalating,” he told town council this past week.

The ongoing land trust discussion and the overall effort to address affordable housing in the area also comes amid the biggest national housing boom since the mid-2000s, an issue that town officials say has exacerbated the affordability issue in Blacksburg and in other parts of the region.

Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith, who was re-elected Nov. 2, said she’s confident the land trust concept, at least based on what she’s been told so far, will get strong support on council.

Housing affordability was an issue that was highlighted during the town’s mayoral race, which was the only contested race during Blacksburg’s local elections this year.

“The problem Blacksburg is experiencing is experienced all over the country right now,” Hager-Smith said.

The mayor said addressing the rate at which land appreciates is one of the most important things the town can do at the moment. She said it’s key in helping the town draw a more diverse group of homeowners to the area.

“If we can stall that problem, we can do a lot of good things. Not just for our community members who already live here, but also for potential new faculty members [at Virginia Tech], young professionals,” Hager-Smith said. “If we can just cap the cost of the land, which is what a land trust promises to do, that will be very, very helpful overall.”

Hager-Smith said a reason for involving other localities such as Montgomery County in the discussion is that the housing affordability issue in the area isn’t uniquely a Blacksburg problem.


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