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Justin Hollinger of Regional Housing Legal Services. Justin Hollinger of Regional Housing Legal Services.

The last decade brought big changes to the Philadelphia real estate market. In the most hotly developing neighborhoods, land and home prices soared to levels that seemed unthinkable a few years earlier. The city’s 2018 Housing Action Plan revealed that this period brought a dramatic spike in the total number of housing units, but with growth concentrated at the high end of the market. The same period has seen the loss of thousands of affordable units, a poverty rate that has barely budged, and a steadily declining homeownership rate with a substantial and static racial divide. All of this takes place against a backdrop of deep racial inequality that continues to affect access to land, credit and capital. As Philadelphia struggles to balance growth and justice, conventional homeownership has steadily receded as an accessible option for more and more Philly families, which will have a lasting impact on who holds a stake in the city’s next act.

We’re now more than month into an unprecedented period of market disruption brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, and there’s plenty of reason for concern that the aftermath might further exacerbate inequality in housing and development. Housing advocates warn that without further intervention, the expiration of eviction and foreclosure moratoria might lead to mass displacement. Low- and moderate-income families affected by layoffs and business closures are watching savings disappear. Even as many predict a decrease in real estate sales prices, many aspiring homeowners with modest incomes will be in no position to capitalize on the moment. Both the present crisis and previous local trends highlight obstacles and risks faced by members of low-income communities who seek stability during turbulent times, and an opportunity to benefit from periods of growth. With these very dynamics in mind, a growing group of nonprofit organizations hope that community land trusts (CLTs) can help communities stay rooted.

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