Section 8 conversion in the works?

COLUMBIA, Mo 12/4/18 (Beat Byte) -- Board members overseeing a City Hall-sponsored low-income home ownership program are split over a move to turn it into a Section 8 landlord.

The Columbia Community Land Trust (CCLT) detailed plans in August and September to enter the low-income rental property business. 

Such plans would "potentially stray from the original mission of the CCLT, to provide opportunity for individuals to build equity in a home," board member Paul Prevo explained at the group's August 14 meeting

The public's impression is "that the CCLT would provide homeownership opportunities," particularly in central Columbia, board member Susan Maze added. 

After researching other land trusts, acting CCLT president Anthony Stanton supports the move away from homeownership.  "All of the large successful trusts have rental properties," he said at the August meeting.
HUD Section 8 rental housing would be a natural new venture for a revamped CCLT, Stanton added at the group's September 28 meeting.  Despite the city's already large Housing Authority presence, "there is still a need for Section 8 vouchers," which low-income renters use to secure Federal rent payments, Stanton said. 

Council Bill B219-16 establishing the CCLT became law in November 2016. Over a dozen news stories since have portrayed the organization as an innovative way to sell new homes to low-income persons.  Homeowners rent only the land, of which the trust retains ownership.  They may sell their homes, but at a fraction of the usual profit.  

The group built and sold several new homes on Lynn Street, and plans a second home ownership development -- the Cullimore Cottages -- on North 8th Street.  

The last lines of B219-16 allow the community land trust to pursue other ventures, including rentals. "As the CLT grows in size and capacity, the CLT may make its land available for rental housing, as well as commercial and social service uses," the ordinance states. 

After examining "wealth building strategies from other land trusts with rental properties," city staff liaison Randy Cole shared  "considerations" with board members about the rental property transition at the August meeting. 
His list included debt coverage for Federally-funded rental homes; rent rates; Federal HOME grant rent limits; additional staffing; desirability of more rentals in the central city; and the inclusion of renters on the CCLT board.  

Cole's "recommended strategy for proceeding" included advice on how the board might spin the "marketing and message" of the group's move away from home ownership. 

Strategic planning consultant Mike Brown of Burlington, VT-based Burlington Associates continued the discussion at the September 28 meeting.  "Approximately 60% of community land trusts have rental properties," he explained.

The CCLT is a "small business," Brown said , and its relationship with City Hall has "complications," including CCLT board supervision of city staffers such as Cole. 

"The CCLT is a hybrid of the land trust board and the City," he explained.  And because rental property management "will take a lot more staff time," Brown supported plans to separate CCLT from its founding partner, City Hall.

Stanton agreed, urging board members to prepare for the day when the CCLT would "act on its own."