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When home prices soar, a community-based land trust helps keep them affordable for first-time buyers

For 26 years, Rondo Community Land Trust has successfully developed affordable housing for modest-income households in St. Paul.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Twin Cities is in the midst of a population boom and land planning expert Lisa Barajas is helping guide its growth.

"We've seen our household growth increase over the last 10 years without our housing production keeping up with that," said Metropolitan Council land planning expert Lisa Barajas.

That's especially true about affordable homes, one that Barajas says should cost a family making $62,000 dollars a year about $245,000. However, with today's hot housing market, an average house costs about $100,000 more than that.

That's partly why Ralonda Mckinley's family never even dreamed of owning a home.

"My mom just wanted to make ends meet," said Mckinley.

Her chances would finally change five years ago, but even then she needed some help.

"I was looking at this ad in the Rondo Newspaper and it talked about Rondo (Community) Land Trust," said Mckinley.

The non-profit provides affordable housing across St. Paul to families who buy a home, but lease the land for a monthly fee. It's an agreement the executive director, Greg Finzell, says lasts 99 years.

"We own the land," explained Finzell. "It's really a legal mechanism to keep the housing affordable long-term, but the family really does have the right to do anything they want to do with the land."

Buyers, like Mckinley, pick the homes that run about $170,000 - if they sell it, they keep the equity, plus just 25% of any increase in appreciation, leaving the rest for the next owner.

"If the market is going up like this, land trust houses go up at a slower rate and that allows families with modest incomes to continue to purchase the house," said Finzell.

The program mostly serves the Rondo neighborhood. It was a thriving African American community until 1968 when Interstate 94 opened through the heart of it, forcing some people to move.

"People are understanding the barriers that People of Color have faced their whole life and on a very small scale, we've tried to address that," said Finzell.

The families must still qualify for a mortgage, but the trust can pay the down payment, closing costs and major mechanicals, that include things like a water heater.

It's what ultimately helped Mckinley buy her first home that has now doubled in value.

"It was divinely purposed for me and my family," said Mckinley. "This is what God had for us."

The program is in its 26th year and has helped 75 families buy homes. Here's more information if you're interested in how it might help you.

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