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State College Community Land Trust Celebrates 25 Years

The State College Community Land Trust (SCCLT) continues to further its mission of creating and preserving permanently affordable homes in State College after 25 years.

In 1996, the founding borough staff, consisting of Lu Hoover, Carl Hess and Shari Keefe, founded the land trust and elected Matt Ford as the first executive director. The 501(c) 3 organization sold the first four homes in 1999.

Applicants to buy houses through the land trust are provided education on budgeting and applying for mortgages. The land is leased to the homeowner, reducing the ownership cost, and the house can in the future be sold to another qualifying buyer or back to SCCLT.

Nina Fellin bought the first house that the non-profit had rehabilitated.

“I was a single mom with a job as a daycare teacher and could not afford the average priced home in State College. Buying through SCCLT presented a wonderful opportunity for me,” Fellin said. “The SCCLT works with a couple of banks, and I obtained the bank loan and purchased the home in the Highlands area of State College.”

Fellin is still living in her original house.

She had read about the organization and said it was former State College Mayor Elizabeth Gorham who urged her to apply for the opportunity to buy a home.

“They were wonderful to work with,” Fellin said. “The land trust folks hold your hands through the entire process.”

Lorie Waters and her husband, Joel, are living in their second Land Trust home.

“We grew up in State College and lived away for a time. When we came back, we heard about this program, which was somewhat of a ‘hidden program,’” Lorie Waters said. “We were in our first SCCLT home for five and a half years but wanted a little bigger house for us and our two daughters, aged six and four. This house works well as it’s close to my husband’s work on the PSU campus, and I’ve been able to stay home with my girls for now. We’ve been in this one for about a year.”

Vicki Fong, president of the SCCLT Board of Directors, explained some of the goals ahead in the March 2021 newsletter. She said that 25 years ago, the SCCLT came into being because of an idea to promote affordable homeownership for essential workers and families in an expensive housing market. Community leaders and borough council members sought to preserve a high quality of life in many neighborhoods with a mix of homeowners and renters.

A new phase of growth and advocacy is beginning for the SCCLT.

“We recognize that we are unable to fulfill our mission of advancing access to safe, stable housing for all without first addressing the detrimental effects of structural racism in housing,” Fong said. “Therefore, over the past year, the board has expanded our strategic goals, outreach, applicant, volunteer, and leadership opportunities to more fully enhance access for African Americans, Latino, Asian/Pacific Americans, Native American, and multi-racial residents.”

The land trust built a net-zero energy home two years ago with its GreenBuild project, and it intends to purchase 1970s-era house to renovate to the same energy standards.

A collaboration between SCCLT and The HOME Foundation (THF), with the State College Borough’s support, bought a block of townhouses on Old Boalsburg Road that will become permanently affordable rentals. SCCLT purchased the land, and THF provided funds to obtain the units. In addition to those townhomes, SCCLT is working on another GreenBuild property, hoping to make it highly efficient, as well as exhibiting street appeal.

The SCCLT welcomed its 73rd homeowner at the end of December. There are 51 houses and a townhouse complex in the SCCLT. The average homeowner purchase price in the past five years: $120,715. The average number of home sales per year is 3.5, and the average homeowner tenure is 7.73 years.

The SCCLT has kept an eye on its homeowners during the pandemic: checking to see if they managed the trying year of 2020. The board for the land trust includes three homeowners, so the group maintains a personal connection in that way as well.

Anna Kochersperger, outreach and development coordinator, said that SCCLT currently has five homes under development, making it an ideal time to submit an application or learn more about their program.

For more information, visit www.scclandtrust.org.

The State College Community Land Trust is located at 1315 S. Allen St., Suite 306, State College, PA 16801.

This story appears in the April 15-21 edition of The Centre County Gazette.