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Affordability leader in YS

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In the the 20 years between 1980 and 2000, the average price of a Yellow Springs home more than doubled, from $57,000 in 1980 to $157,375 in 2008. In the Dayton area, home prices also rose, but much less quickly, from $52,500 to about $122,000, according to data from the Dayton Area Board of Realtors.

In that same time period, Yellow Springs became an older, whiter and more affluent community, jumping from an average age of 27 in 1980 to an average age of 41 (compared to an average age of 36 in the Dayton area), according to Census data. During the same time, the numbers of the village’s African-American population declined, as did the students in local schools. And it just makes sense that the high cost of housing in Yellow Springs can be linked to those demographic changes, according to Emily Seibel, the program coordinator of Yellow Springs Home, Inc.

“There’s a real threat of gentrification,” she said in a recent interview.

The Home, Inc. community land trust organization — which creates affordable housing by having homeowners pay only for the house, with the land staying in a community trust — along with the Yellow Springs Village Council, hopes to jumpstart a conversation on affordable housing with a talk by John Emmeus Davis, a national expert on affordable housing policy and a leader in the community land trust movement. The talk will take place Sunday, June 6, at 7 p.m. at the Glen Helen Building, 405 Corry Street. The event is free and everyone is invited.

“To me, this is a huge challenge,” said Council President Judith Hempfling in an interview last week. “The lack of affordable housing is a particular problem with young families, especially in this economy. This model of the community land trust is a kind of first step into home ownership, perhaps an interim step giving young people a foothold. Bringing John here helps us see how this model has worked for other communities that have similar challenges.”

The decline in young families in town has a multitude of effects on the community, Hempfling said, including fewer children for local schools, which puts the school district at risk, and ultimately a decline in income tax revenues, since the Village income tax comes only from wages of those working in the village, not from retirees.

“Part of our economic sustainability is based on the concept of people living and working here,” she said.

It’s also noteworthy that the community land trust model has a strong local connection. The author of the recently published Community Land Trust Reader, Davis points to former Antioch College President Arthur Morgan as one of the inspirations of the movement, which began in the late 1960s.

According to Davis in a press release, “The planned communities created by Arthur Morgan in the 1930s helped inspire the modern-day CLT.”

In a paper on Morgan and CLTs, Seibel cites Morgan’s advocacy of community-owned land in his statement that “a great home needs to be supplemented by a great community,” a concept he explored in The Small Community: Foundation of a Democratic Life, which is excerpted in the Davis reader. Morgan went on to create two planned land trust communities in Tennessee and North Carolina, along with the Vale in Yellow Springs, which continues to the present.

Morgan’s ideas were further refined by another land trust leader, Bob Swann, who, inspired by Morgan, came to Yellow Springs in 1944 to work for a year at Community Service, now known as Community Solutions. Involved in the civil rights movement, Swann went on to work with Slater King, cousin of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to create New Communities, Inc., the nation’s first community land trust. That organization aimed to “ease the residential and economic plight of African Americans living in the rural South,” according to Seibel, and went on to hold 6,000 acres, the largest tract of black-owned land in the country at the time.

That land trust movement faced considerable resistance, and eventually the land was lost. However, in 2009, a historic cash settlement of nearly $13 million was awarded to New Communities, the result of a lawsuit that claimed the U.S. Department of Agriculture had discriminated against blacks at the time.

Today, more than 230 community land trusts operate in 45 states, according to Seibel, and Yellow Springs is the only small town with two of them, the Vale and Home, Inc.

“John Davis’ visit is a good first step facilitating a community discussion on affordability,” Seibel said. “It lines up naturally with the current visioning process and looking toward the future.”

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