Published December 29, 2019
By Lee Howard
New London — The newly formed Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust has put up its first house for sale, and apparently already has a buyer.
Executive Director Rain Doherty said a closing on the stone home at 34-36 Prest St., which was on the market for $128,000, is expected next month. The 1870 home, purchased by the land trust for $73,000, is a two-family with a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor and three more bedrooms on the two upper floors.
The solid-looking house was believed to have been constructed by George Prest, a stone mason, who also erected a similar stone building across the street. By the time the land trust acquired it, the interior of the home had deteriorated.
"The plumbing didn't work," said Doherty, who was known by her given first name, Tammy, while director of economic development for the city but who later adopted her middle name. "We got almost $20,000 in grants for code upgrades and lead abatement."
According to an online account, the house has been valued at $148,000, but was listed at a $20,000 reduction to give the new owner "equity right away." The 2,400-square-foot home includes a fenced-in yard with about a tenth of an acre of land.
Adding to the allure, the new homeowner will be able to collect rent from the first-floor tenant. Homeowners of land trust properties, whose income must be below a certain threshold depending on family size, are limited to first-time buyers or those who have not owned a home for the past three years.
The land on which the house sits is owned by the trust, allowing it to limit the resale price of the home in an effort to keep it permanently affordable. When the home is resold, the owner and the land trust will share any appreciation in price.
"We've really increased the value of this property, and it was a community investment," Doherty said. "Neighborhood values have increased as well."
Doherty said the land trust has been involved in the FRESH New London community garden on Ledyard Street, but this is its first foray into affordable housing. In the future, she said, the group expects to move into housing counseling, a big need in southeastern Connecticut.
The Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust serves all of New London County, Doherty said, but people in this city appear to be the most activated by its potential. Doherty herself was brought on as its first executive director in January after the group's board realized the Prest Street project would require someone's full attention, she said.
"The enthusiasm was here, so the project was here," Doherty added.
Doherty said the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut has supported the project, and various fundraisers helped out as well. The sellers of the home also made a contribution, she added.
Renovations have included doing major work to the kitchen, finishing floors and improving the bathrooms. A lot of the work was done with voluntary labor, though carpenters, electricians and plumbers were called on as well. A painting party is planned at the property Jan. 3 to put the finishing touches on the project.
Creating a land trust had been discussed for about five years, Doherty said, though its first official meeting was held in June. The St. Francis House agreed to become the fiduciary for the affordable-housing project as the land trust works on getting official nonprofit status.
In the future, after it completes a few more affordable-housing projects, plans are for the homeowners to make up at least a third of the land trust's board of directors, Doherty said.
"It's been a community dialogue," Doherty said.
For information about the land trust, visit sectclt.org, check out its Facebook page at SECTCLT or call (860) 772-4012.