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Land trust ‘piece of puzzle’ to grow affordable housing in York

January 14, 2024

Posted on: January 14th, 2024. Posted by: Joseph Quigley, Original Article.

‘Land trusts are instrumental in solving homelessness and creating affordable housing,’ Blue Door CEO says of newly launched Housing for All Community Land Trust 

York Region housing charity Blue Door is creating a new land trust that seeks to acquire land for affordable housing.

The Housing for All Community Land Trust will seek to engage with municipalities, developers and other community members to acquire donated housing units. The land trust will then manage those units to be used indefinitely for affordable housing.

Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite says the land trust is a way to collect and manage property throughout York Region and beyond, in the interests of preserving affordable housing.

“Land trusts are instrumental in solving homelessness and creating affordable housing,” Braithwaite said. “New builds are great, but it’s not just new supply. We got to keep the supply we have that’s affordable.” 

The project has been in the works for two years, but the land trust was formally announced Jan. 5. Braithwaite said the land trust will be under the Blue Door banner but be an independent entity, with a separate board of directors now in place. They are now looking to hire a manager for the land trust, which York Region has agreed to provide $100,000 in funding for over four years, Braithwaite said.

The concept was started by Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, Braithwaite said, who discussed with Blue Door and other partners about the concept of the land trust. With the help of $100,000 in seed funding from the United Way, Blue Door developed the idea over the past two years.

Taylor said it is an idea he is excited about, adding that addressing housing affordability will require responses from all levels of government and non-profits.

The land trust “provides another piece of the puzzle to getting to achieving housing affordability, or housing options, for everyone,” Taylor said.

The land trust will aim to acquire housing units throughout York Region and possibly outside municipalities, Braithwaite said. He discussed how they might seek a donation of some units from a developer building out many. Small homes could also be a target. As the organization gathers assets, Braithwaite said they might purchase more units to maintain, possibly by selling older ones.

As a call to action for developers, Braithwaite said this land trust will be a good place to give back to the community.

“A land trust gives them a way to give back to everyone,” Braithwaite said. “It’s a safe landing spot for developers and others to say, ‘I’m giving back to the community. I care about the community.’”

The units the land trust gathered would then be made available to the most vulnerable, Braithwaite said. That would include partnerships with other non-profit organizations for their clients, with those non-profits potentially leasing from the land trust to provide that affordable housing.

Vacant property would not necessarily be the target, Braithwaite said, though they would not decline if such an opportunity arose.

To sway developers, municipalities can play a role, Taylor said. Although municipalities will not directly manage the land trust, mayors can work to help get developers to donate units.

“This is an opportunity for mayors, in particular, as leaders across York Region, to try to help bring units to the land trust,” Taylor said. “It’s the bringing together of many policies, approaches, innovations and partnerships that will eventually move the needle enough to really start to make a difference in people’s lives.” 

Although Braithwaite said he feels good to have the organization started, there is plenty of work to do. They hope to have at least a few units in their inventory by the end of the year.

“I think we’ll feel a lot better when we’ve got a lot of housing locked down into the trust, where we have new options for people around affordable housing.” 

Developers and other entities interested in donating can contact Blue Door, Braithwaite said.