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Gloucester needs community land trusts

Pen+and+marker+drawing+by+Sophia+Montello.
Sophia Montello
Pen and marker drawing by Sophia Montello.

At the forefront of every political debate, article, and petition there seems to be a singular topic of contention in Gloucester. It is the deciding vote for mayor and the focal point of the local newspaper. It is the constant argument behind the waterfront view versus a new apartment building. It is the dreaded words of our officials and the constant concern of our citizens: affordable housing. Right now, it seems that adequate affordable housing in Gloucester is an out-of-reach goal  we will never achieve. As the local newspaper highlights every price jump, we see more and more of our youth move away. But just as the lighthouses of this great city have led many safely to our shores, community land trusts can lead our way to becoming a city its residents can afford. 

In an analysis conducted by the city of Gloucester, it was found that the median household income of approximately $60,000 should be enough to buy a house valued at $210,000. Last year the average single-family house cost just shy of $800,000. If we continue along this path, where will Gloucester be 10 years from now? How resourceful are we asking our citizens to be in order to live here? 

When the majority of our citizens can no longer afford to live in their neighborhood, their city, or their hometown, we can no longer afford to wait to take action. Whether the solutions include construction, new city plans, or the promises of our politicians; people are leaving now. You may be sitting there, questioning, “Will I ever be able to afford living here as an adult?”. Too often, the answer is no. 

One option is community land trusts. These operate as nonprofits that buy existing properties, and sell the property to people below market rates while the nonprofit retains the land, making the owner eventually have to sell it back to them. Thus making the housing market more accessible to people, and ensuring that these properties will be available for years to come. The funding typically comes from grants, local donations, and in some cases local businesses. In Essex County, Ashbury Grove in Hamilton and properties on the neck in Ipswich operate in similar ways. 

The basic goal of community land trusts is affordable housing. More importantly, this is housing that will not expire with an increase in income. Nor will it subject its residents to the limits of renting. Instead, community land trusts give the inhabitants the ability to build wealth through homeownership without having to leave their city. It ensures that this safety for our residents will not be at the mercy of town funds and a two-thirds majority vote. It will give the power of our housing market back to our community. It will make the dream of living here a reality. 

Often land trusts are subjected to the argument that though effective, they are hard to start and sufficient funding cannot always be achieved. While this is very true, it’s a storm we are ready to face, and it is a storm we have faced many times before. This is evident in the numerous successful nonprofits that have become pillars in our community. These include Backyard Growers, the Open Door, and the Gloucester Education Foundation that has funded things in this very school. This success is not chance, but a result of the strong bonded community of Gloucester, and the devotion to help struggling neighbors. Another nonprofit is no feat for us. 

For many families of Gloucester roots go back generations. As a result many have extensive communities that they don’t wish to leave behind. Gloucester is no longer itself if it is not home to the people that live in it. The absence of affordable housing is like a summer without Fiesta. Is it really summer at all? No, it isn’t. Is it really Gloucester without its unusual economic diversity? No, it isn’t.

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About the Contributor
Sophia Montello, Staff Writer
Sophia Montello is a senior at Gloucester High School and a first year staff writer for the Gilnetter. In her free time she makes jewelry, practices nail art, paints and draws.  She also is the owner of four cats.  Sophia is a member of the National Art Honors Society at GHS. You can contact Sophia with story ideas at smontello014@ gmail.com

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