Athens Land Trust Promotes Homeownership for All

The private nonprofit is steadfastly committed to not only helping first-time homebuyers but also the entire Athens community.

Photo courtesy Athens Land Trust This home represents the type of structures being built exclusively for ALT homebuyers. 

For close to 20 years, the Athens Land Trust has helped people become homeowners of quality housing in an otherwise inflated market. Every fall the city's population swells by approximately 35,000 college students whose seemingly endless resources squeeze permanent residents with moderate-to-low incomes out of the housing market.

The concept is brilliant in its simplicity: The Trust purchases properties, renovates them so that they are energy efficient and then makes them available to qualified first-time homebuyers. They’re also in the process of building several EarthCraft homes from the ground up. Of course there are many other assistance programs that may look and sound the same, but ALT is wholly different because the Trust maintains ownership of the land. The homeowner has full use of the land just like any other homeowner and can pass the structure on to their children. 

“If the homeowner decides to sell the house, however, ALT will buy the house back from them or help them find another low-to-moderate-income family or individual to purchase the home,” explained board member and ALT Vice President Lara Mathes. “In this manner, the community's investment in an affordable housing stock is not eroded, while our buyers enjoy the benefits of home ownership.”

Photo courtesy Athens Land Trust The Athens Land Trust celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony at the century-old Williams Family Farm on Aug. 22, 2013. ALT continues the farm traditions by employing neighborhood residents, providing educational opportunities and harvesting fresh produce on the land.

Mathes, who is also assistant director of campus planning at the University of Georgia, has been with ALT since 2005 and said that not only is the Trust committed to providing affordable housing, but it also promotes and advocates land conservation and community agriculture. They maintain conservation easements encompassing 8,298 protected acres throughout the state that include natural habitats and river frontage as well as working agricultural land and land of historical importance. They also host a farmers' market, beautification programs and community gardens. She said that they are often questioned about why they’ve chosen to split their time and resources across what can be perceived as disparate programs. 

“There are very few, if any, other land trusts nationwide that focus on all three of our program areas, and the multiple hats do bring special challenges,” said Mathes. “But ALT was founded on the understanding that land is a finite resource in every community, a resource essential for the achievement of communal goods that the market has no natural incentive to preserve, and none of these goods should be pursued to the detriment of the others.” 

Photo courtesy Athens Land Trust The 5th annual dinner took place at Woodland Gardens organic farm in Winterville with benefits going toward the renovation of ALT's headquarters. 

The Trust therefore balances their efforts to preserve land for open space with an attention to land for affordable housing. They strive to support both rural and urban land in its capacity to provide sustainable agricultural opportunities. 

“The land is the connection and the balance of these goals is what brings social justice to our communities,” said Mathes. 

Athens Land Trust recently partnered to develop a 120-unit mixed-income apartment complex for individuals and families needing quality, affordable rental housing, and will hold its yearly Harvest Moon fundraising dinner this Saturday, Oct. 19. There are also two buyer education classes left this month, and the Athens Heritage & Urban Agriculture Festival takes place Nov. 2. Find out more information about these events or even how to volunteer your services at their website

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