Why this Whitehorse non-profit wants to make a community land trust

Tyler Heal and Laird Herbert, members of Northern Community Land Trust board, want to create affordable housing that stays affordable in the long term.

The goal is to target people who can't buy a home with a traditional mortgage

A concept design of a possible housing complex that would be operated under the Northern Community Land Trust. (Northern Community Land Trust)

Imagine affordable housing units in Whitehorse that would stay affordable forever.

That's what Tyler Heal and Laird Herbert, members of Northern Community Land Trust board, hope to do.

"Put simply, it's a way to create affordable housing that … stay[s] affordable. We do that through holding land in trust, building lower cost housing on it and then restricting the resale price going forward," Heal said.

"The motivation kind of came out of seeing houses as a place for people to live ... rather than something to profit from."

He added it's possible a housing cooperative could be layered on top of that. But generally, he said it would look and feel just like any other market housing, except prices would be lower and stay that way.

Herbert said it's hoped that in Yukon, the focus would be on rent-to-own situations. The goal would be to target people who can't buy a home with a traditional mortgage.

"It's mostly for folks that are currently priced out of the market," he explained.

"There's a gap between social housing and then a certain income bracket that can afford housing. And so those folks might not be able to access financing or just don't have the resources to be able to purchase a home."

How it works

Herbert said the community organization would hold the land in trust, removing it from the real estate market.

"Homeowners essentially have a lease to access that land," he said.

"They own the value of the improvements, so their value of their home, and then that gets sold, and resold … It creates a community asset, because that land can never be bought or sold on the market again. And it exists solely for the purpose of creating affordable housing."

Herbert said the price of homes within the land trust is tied to inflation, where the value can only increase by a small percentage every year.

It's a long-standing model in the U.S. and Europe, but there are fewer operating across the Canada.

Laird Herbert, left, and Tyler Heal are both board members with Northern Community Land Trust. (Submitted by Tyler Heal)

The housing development could be in the form of duplexes, town homes or apartments, Heal said. It would likely be in a community that isn't entirely car-dependent, possibly within downtown, Riverdale or Takhini.

Heal said it would be somewhere within the 20 to 60 unit range, adding it would be neither high nor low density set up "but something in the middle."

"Maybe we have some shared amenity space, community garden, and maybe a model where everyone still has a front door to their house," he said.

Herbert said his interest in community land trusts stems partly from growing up in B.C., where he said he watched homes skyrocket into the millions in market worth.

"I really liked the idea of housing as not just as a commodity," said Herbert.

"It's something that people should be able to access regardless of their income."

Heal agreed and said he's been frustrated with current expensive housing options.

He added it's important to consider the future of Whitehorse, which he says is projected to add at least 5,000 people in the next 20 years.

"When you break that down, it means you need to build 250 to 400 homes every year, over those next 20 years," Heal said.

Heal said that means a lot more homes will need to be added each year.

"I think there's room for a different model like this, to be a part of that and make sure that there's some good quality, affordable housing that gets built."

A concept design of a possible housing complex that would be operated under the Northern Community Land Trust. (Northern Community Land Trust)

So far, they have formed an initial non-profit society and have received some initial funding from a social impact investor in B.C.

"We're currently using that to put together and have all the legal work and concept work and financial analysis to make our initial business case. And then the idea is to take that and pitch it to local governments to actually find a parcel of land," Heal said.

"Then we'd move into the community consultation and design and actual construction."

There's a meeting on Tuesday night for those interested in learning more, with the last part of the session aimed at getting feedback.

The next step after meeting is to work toward a business case to pitch to government and partners to get more financing.

They hope to get the project completed in the next two to three years.

With files from Elyn Jones