Housing land trust forges growth mission
August 20, 2012By J. Elias O'Neal
After recently losing its former executive director, and with federal and state funds for affordable housing shrinking, officials with the region’s first housing land trust is changing how it does business.
“Funding for low-to-moderate housing is dwindling,” said J. Clark Hipp, interim executive director of the Cape Fear Housing Land Trust. “So we’re trying to come up ways to help further sustain the land trust for years to come because we know the level of funding we had three years ago is getting smaller.”
Formed in 2008, the Wilmington-based Cape Fear Housing Land Trust is a nonprofit organization that provides affordable first-time home ownership opportunities for residents in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. To keep the price of the home low, the land trust retains ownership of the land, thus removing the cost of the land from the price of the residence.
Erin E. Diener, former executive director of the land trust, left the operation in June to serve as business manager for Wilmington-based Nye’s Cream Sandwiches. Since her departure, Hipp – a founding board member of the organization – is serving as its interim director, a position the group will not fund full-time until it increases its cash flow.
Hipp said while the organization’s mission will never change, the group is looking for new opportunities and ventures to help pad the nonprofit’s coffers while still addressing the demand for affordable housing in the area.
“We are still looking to buy, renovate and sell distressed properties,” Hipp said. “But because of the current housing market, we have to reevaluate that approach.”
In May, land trust officials placed its first home – located at 808 N. Sixth St. – up for sale at $80,000 for qualified, first-time home buyers. But despite many inquiries from potential buyers, the rehabbed home remains for sale.
Hipp said as the group waits to unload the property, it’s coming up with other ways to raise more cash for its mission, which includes taking advantage of the region’s sizzling rental market.
“Obviously, that’s one area we are looking into,” Hipp said. “By acquiring some rental property it may help transition people from renting to owning.”
The group has also been in talks with the Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity to help identify potential homebuyers. Hipp added that the group is also exploring the idea of purchasing commercial property to lease out to start-up businesses.
“We would own the property and lease it out to start-up businesses and disadvantaged business owners that may have lost their space to higher rents and need to downsize,” Hipp said.
“It could be similar to First Baptist Church’s Harrelson Center downtown.”
Meanwhile, Hipp said the group would continue working with the city of Wilmington in helping identify distressed and foreclosed properties that might be ripe for redevelopment.
He added the group is also working with Pender and Brunswick counties for similar future investments and working with its consultant to help identify grant monies for future development and growth.
“This is a very worthwhile organization that is addressing a serious need in our community,” Hipp said. “We want to find ways now, while home prices are down, to raise money to further our cause in bringing more affordable housing to our region.”