Land Trust Homes Could Go to Displaced Austinites

“Right to return” preference policy to be used with sales of city-owned homes

This house on 1018 Linden St. will be the first to be sold to a demonstrated local with family ties for just under $200,000 as part of the city's right to return program (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The city of Austin is preparing to implement a "housing preference policy" that would give displaced Austinites an avenue to return, by selling city-owned homes at affordable prices to people who can prove their generational ties to the city.

Also often called a right to return policy, the framework for these sales has been in the works at (what is now) the Housing and Planning Department since 2018. Prospective buyers who can show they or their immediate family members were displaced by gentrification since 2000 will have an edge in the selection process to sell these homes at an affordable price to first-time home buyers earning no more than 80% of Austin's median family income, or $63,300 per year for two people. That makes the price point for a two-bedroom just under $200,000; currently (as of March 2022) the median home sale price in Austin is $624,000, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.

Those prices are possible by folding the 28 properties (as of right now) in the program into a community land trust, where the city (or a nonprofit) owns the land but sells the structures to individuals. Most of these 28 properties are in Council Districts 1 and 6, with others in Districts 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8. The first, located on Linden St., will open for applications later this month.

Housing and Planning intended to implement the policy in 2020 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. When applications for each property open, people will have 30 days to apply online. Applicants will be scored on factors like income-to-debt ratio, generational ties to gentrified parts of Austin (as defined by the 2018 Uprooted study by UT-Austin's Schools of Law and Architecture), and gross income. Qualified applicants will then be entered into a lottery, whose randomly selected winners will be offered the chance to proceed with purchase.

A department spokesperson said H&P is working with the city's legal and real estate departments to fine-tune details; after the Linden Street house is sold, the process will be reviewed and refined as needed before the next five properties go up for sale in June.

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