H.O.M.E.'s Sweet, Affordable Homes

HOMEWORKERS Organized for More Employment (H.O.M.E.), an organization that helps Maine's rural poor and disenfranchised, is helping low-income families and elderly individuals buy houses they ordinarily wouldn't be able to afford.H.O.M.E. is doing this with about 700 acres it has acquired below market price and put in a community land trust (CLT) - land that is preserved for affordable housing. The organization's Covenant Community Land Trust is one of more than 100 CLTs in the United States, and their numbers are growing rapidly, according to the Springfield, Mass.-based Institute for Community Economics, a national group that provides assistance to CLTs. On three sites several miles from H.O.M.E.'s base in Orland, Maine, 12 houses and three duplexes have been built since 1978. Volunteers and future residents help construct the homes, which usually have three bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room-dining area, and a kitchen. Each also has a greenhouse and at least 10 acres for gardening and raising farm animals. "It gives you a chance to be independent," says Virgie Betts, a senior citizen who works at H.O.M.E.'s craft shop and who lives in an old farmhouse already on the land-trust property. "It gives people dignity and a feeling of having roots." H.O.M.E. is able to offer the houses at a low price (about $30,000 to $35,000) because it owns the land, produces its own lumber, and uses staff and volunteers for labor. People pay 25 percent of their income for rent, which is held in a trust and kept for a down payment. Maine State Housing offers low down payments and low interest rates on mortgages. "It's a way to make [it] possible for poor people to do what middle-class and wealthy people do without much strain," says John Immerwahr, a Villanova University professor and a former H.O.M.E. volunteer. Because more than 80 percent of the land in Maine is owned by paper companies or out-of-state residents who have pushed up land prices and property taxes, many natives have been unable to afford a house or hold on to property. "What's happened is people who've lived in Maine for generations have lost all contact with the land," says Lucy Poulin, H.O.M.E.'s founder. Through H.O.M.E.'s efforts, the Maine state legislature last year passed the Homestead/Landtrust Act, which sets a certain amount of money aside to build houses for low-income people. H.O.M.E. is helping organize six other CLTs across the state. "It's going to be the new thing," says Melody Hovey, whose family moved into one of the houses in 1980. "We're keeping land in a trust so it won't be used for commercial use. We're going to help people survive."

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