CASE STUDY: In Columbus, Ohio, new homeownership pilot project with Central Ohio Community Land Trust deemed “wildly successful”

CASE STUDY: Collaborative Housing Initiative in Franklin County Puts 20 Families On Path to Homeownership

In 2018, Columbus City Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, the City Council of Columbus and the Franklin County Commissioners supported the creation and funding of the Central Ohio Community Land Trust to help resolve a critical shortage of affordable housing. In 2019, Columbus announced it would build 20 homes through the Community Land Trust in a partnership including NCRC Housing Rehab Fund, LLC, Rockford Homes and Civitas Development Group, on scattered sites in several neighborhoods. The building sites had been owned by the city of Columbus Lank Bank and Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation, but transferred to the Community Land Trust. To keep the homes affordable to low, moderate and middle-income residents, the Community Land Trust holds land as a permanent community asset and guarantees perpetual affordability of homes for its residents through a 99-year land lease. The Community Land Trust homeowners own their home and lease the land underneath it from the trust. This guarantees each house remains affordable, not only for the first homebuyer, but subsequent homebuyers who follow. Program participants also qualify for a 15-year tax abatement. The 20 new three-bedroom homes were built by Rockford Homes, and completed nine months after breaking ground, five weeks early, and approximately $20,000 under budget per home.

Darin Hall, CEO of Civitas Development Group, calls the transformative project “a public/private partnership in the truest sense.” He said it was a perfect project for Civitas Development because, “we are experienced working with land banks – we know the particular challenges they face.”

“We selected the lots owned by the Land Bank where there are good places for people to live and raise families,” Hall said. “We chose buildable lots with utility access, and then we had to figure out zoning. We had to make sure the homes were designed to be the right size at the right price. We worked with area Realtors to make sure we were building a marketable project for Columbus. It was a highly collaborative effort,” Hall said, “with Civitas coordinating all of those efforts, including building selection services, which helped lead us to the project budget. 

“We interviewed builders in the area who were experienced building in-town communities, and we landed on Rockford Homes, a builder that had been around since the 1980s,” Hall said. “What we learned is that we needed a builder like Rockford, big enough to power through uncertainty and deliver on schedule, because there was no room for  cost overruns. We were there every week to make sure we were hitting production goals and check in to make sure others in the neighborhood were not impacted by the construction. Ultimately, we came in under budget – Rockford never stopped working, despite all of the complications from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ed Gorman is managing director of the NCRC Housing Rehab Fund, an organization with a mission in alignment with the GROWTH program of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). According to Gorman, “This project excited us because it is powered by a partnership dedicated to preserving affordable homeownership in fast-gentrifying areas in the city of Columbus.”

The goal of the Community Land Trust is to provide long-term stability to changing neighborhoods. Curtiss L. Williams, Sr. is President and CEO of the Central Ohio Community Land Trust and the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation. Williams called the initial housing project “wildly successful. The new homeowners are ecstatic and speak about now having something to leave to their kids.”