Coming home on a medium income

Posted: Thursday, August 01, 2002

Standing in the living room of his family's new home in Douglas, Shane Timothy gestured out the window at the sprawling view of Gastineau Channel.

"It's really pretty when the cruise ships leave at night with the lights," Timothy said with a smile.

Several months ago, Timothy, his wife Amber, and their 1-year-old son Reece were living in a mobile home in Kodzoff Acres on Mendenhall Loop Road. Buying a house was a dream that seemed unreachable in the face of Juneau's high housing costs, the couple said.

But thanks to Treadwell Prospect, a new project undertaken by the Juneau Housing Trust and Housing First, the Timothys and three other moderate-income families are sitting pretty in their two-story homes on Crow Hill.

Housing First is a local provider of loans to low-income families trying to buy or rent housing. The Juneau Housing Trust holds and manages land for the benefit of home owners who lease homes built on the land.

Essentially, the trust is a community land trust, said Betsy Longenbaugh, administrator of the housing trust and administrative assistant to Housing First.

Community land trusts, which are in use throughout the country, keep home costs low by charging only for the house and not the land it rests on, said Stephen Sorenson, president of the Juneau Housing Trust. The home owner receives a 99-year lease allowing the house to exist on the land.

In addition to the low initial price, homes purchased through a land trust will remain affordable in perpetuity, Longenbaugh said. The property value appreciates with time, and when home owners sell the house, they receive 25 percent of that appreciation. The remainder is used to reduce the price of the house, which does increase over time but at a slower rate than other properties that are not part of the trust.

"In Burlington (Vt.) where they've had this model in place, they're selling homes to single mothers on welfare who are able to afford home ownership," Longenbaugh added. "After three or four resales, the price of the home in relation to the market is so low."

In planning the project, the housing agencies consulted representatives from land trusts around the country. They dubbed Juneau "perfect" for the program, Longenbaugh said.

"We've seen a migration outward of young families and young people that are unable to find home purchase in Juneau," Longenbaugh said. "(It's) more than $200,000 for the average cost of a home. It's really out of reach."

The Treadwell Prospect development - named for the mining history of the area and the personal prospects of the home buyers - was purchased by the trust at fair market value, Sorenson said.

Construction began last September, but progress was slowed by problems with contractors, and the four houses only recently became available to residents.

While construction continued, the housing agencies worked to spread the word to the community. Frequent information sessions were held for about six months, educating buyers about the new homes.

Amber Timothy discovered the Treadwell Prospect at Juneau's February home show. She initially dismissed the idea, but attended a public meeting later in the spring to follow up. The family's decision to pursue the program solidified when Amber found out she was pregnant with her second child.

"It just seemed right for our needs," Amber said. "We thought about it and couldn't pass it up."

Each house in Treadwell Prospect is priced at $152,000, but as part of the program's subsidy by the Alaska Housing Finance Corp., buyers are given a $20,000 forgivable loan, Longenbaugh said.

Candidates therefore must qualify for a $132,000 mortgage, which can be lowered with personal savings, she added.

Four more houses are planned for Treadwell Prospect. They'll follow the same pricing model as the four that exist now and will be built within a year, the housing trust said.

Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at

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