Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday August 15th, 2014, 1:17pm

Albany Park Community Land Trust Close To Locking In First Home Donation (VIDEO)

Leaders with Centro Autónomo in Albany Park say the group's effort to establish a community land trust to secure affordable housing in the northwest Chicago neighborhood is moving forward.

Centro Autónomo, also known as the Albany Park Autonomous Center, is currently asking financial institutions to donate local homes in foreclosure to its Casas del Pueblo Community Land Trust, a non-profit that wants to turn the properties into permanent affordable housing for low-income residents. Both Casas del Pueblo and the Centro Autónomo are projects of the Mexico Solidarity Network.

So far, no homes have been donated to the community land trust, which officially launched in 2011. But Antonio Gutierrez, housing coordinator at Centro Autónomo, said the organization has a negotiation session planned for September with Fannie Mae. Another meeting with a national representative of donations for Wells Fargo is scheduled for the end of August.

Gutierrez and others with the effort are optimistic the community land trust will receive its first donated home within the next several months. 

"Casas del Pueblo needs to put as much pressure as we can right now [on the financial institutions], because this is a time when we're almost sure that we can get this donation by the end of the year," he said.

Casas del Pueblo has a membership of families facing foreclosure who are asking for their homes to be donated to the trust. The non-profit would maintain ownership in perpetuity of any donated houses, but would allow families to stay in them at an affordable cost.

Residents of the donated homes would pay a monthly fee to Casas del Pubelo that covers real estate taxes and insurance. The monthly payment would also include a maintenance fee of 2 percent of the market value of the building to be put towards a "creative savings plan" for the resident.

"Let's say a window is broken. If they want to access the money that they have saved in this bank account, they can do so and change the window," Gutierrez said. "If they want to do it out of their own pocket and not access this money, this money is still theirs ... and becomes the equity that they can take once they decide to leave the home in five years, 10 years ... and maybe give a downpayment to become homeowners again in 10 years from now." 

For at least one of Casas del Pueblo's members, Gutierrez said the total monthly fee would be about $350 if the individual's home is donated to the land trust. Currently, the member owes monthly housing payments of $1,800.

Homes given to the community land trust would not only help people struggling to keep a roof over their head. It would also be a win for the banks because the foreclosure process is often costly for them, Gutierrez said. 

"To go through the whole process of foreclosure and to get someone evicted, it costs them about $10,000 [or] $20,000," he said of the banks. "It depends on how long the process can go."

Tom Hansen, international education director of the Mexico Solidarity Network, said those with Casas del Pueblo conducted a study of all the homes that had been foreclosed in Albany Park between 2005 and 2012. The study, which the group has provided to several financial institutions, looked at the costs of foreclosure and how much the banks got back when they sold the house, he said.

"In one-third of those cases, the banks would have been better off donating the house to us at the outset, rather than going through the foreclosure process," Hansen said. "They would have lost less money by just simply donating the house to us."

Also, since Casa del Pueblo is a non-profit, banks can get a tax credit in return for a home donation to the land trust, Gutierrez said. 

"They can walk away with that as their loss mitigation," he explained.

Casas del Pueblo is asking for donations of single-family homes as well as two- and three-flat buildings. The non-profit is also in talks with the Cook County Land Bank Authority to see if it can facilitate a process for Casas del Pueblo to obtain and rehab vacant homes for additional affordable housing options in the community, Gutierrez said.

The Albany Park-based community land trust was discussed at a town hall meeting Thursday night about housing issues and the problems of gentrification.

Roosevelt High School teacher Tim Meegan, who is also running as an independent candidate for 33rd Ward alderman, was on hand to talk about his housing-related plans if he is elected to the city council next year. Meegan said he would put an elected advisory council of residents in place, which would review planned developments, zoning changes and other proposals that would impact the neighborhood. He would also fight to change the policy that allows the mayor to appoint Chicago Housing Authority board members.

Here's more from Meegan:

Meegan, who is in support of the Casas del Pueblo Community Land Trust, said there is an affordable housing crisis in the city. He said more than 50 percent of Chicagoans are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

"That's just too much," he stressed. "The problem with that, of course, is you can never get ahead when you're spending such a large porportion of your income on housing."

High housing costs, added Hansen, is the "biggest cause of poverty in this country."

"If housing was more affordable, we could come pretty close to abolishing a lot of poverty in this country," he said. "If we look at who makes money on housing, about one-half of the cost of every home in this country is bank interest ... So when we look at who's at the root of poverty, who's at the root of the housing problem and who's at the root of this whole process of gentrification, we need to look no further than the banks."

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