Community Home Trust

| February 2, 2012

As the cost of living increases and the real estate market remains unstable, there is one local, non-profit organization that is reigniting the hope of homeownership.

The Community Home Trust has been successfully selling affordable homes to low- and moderate-income residents of Orange County since 1999. Originally known as the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust, the name was changed to the Community Home Trust in 2009 in an effort to emphasize the organization’s principal mission: finding affordable homes for lower-income residents who work in our community, so that they can live in our community. Their model of providing affordable housing is unique, and was developed initially back in 1991 by a community task force, initiated by the Chapel Hill City Council, made up of local politicians, community leaders and concerned citizens throughout Orange County. Beginning with the idea of a land trust, where the community owns the land but the individual owns the improvements to the land, the goal was to keep housing affordable throughout selling transactions and throughout time. This presented an enormous challenge, as Orange County properties, even ones initially built as affordable housing, tend to appreciate greatly over time, thus pricing our lower- and moderate-income residents right out of town.

There was no precedent set for keeping housing affordable year after year – it had never before been attempted in Orange Country. As pioneers, it took years of creative, thoughtful and forward thinking, under the leadership of Community Home Trust’s Executive Director Robert Dowling, to develop the Community Home Trust model as it stands today — and it works.


Several innovations distinguish the Community Home Trust from the other land trust organizations in the National Community Land Trust Network, and these distinctions are what make it so successful. One such innovation, developed by local governments and administered by the Home Trust, is a concept called inclusionary housing, and the long-term care and maintenance of Home Trust homes is critical for success of this program. Development & Communications Manager Tamara Watson described what inclusionary housing entails. “The homes we sell are not isolated in their own communities. They are incorporated within desirable neighborhoods. You can’t tell which homes are Home Trust homes and which ones aren’t because all of our homes are well-maintained and attractive.” Every Home Trust homeowner pays a monthly Stewardship Fee, which is essentially maintenance dues, which stays with the home to be used for “big ticket” repair items, like new water heaters or flooring, when needed. The Community Home Trust also offers four home maintenance classes throughout the year to its homeowners, which include topics such as cleaning gutters and saving money on the water bill.

Another piece of the Community Home Trust model that contributes greatly to its success is the emphasis on education. There is a steep learning curve when one transitions from being a renter to becoming a homebuyer, and the Home Trust not only acknowledges this, but also supports its clients throughout the entire purchasing process. “We work and strive to create really successful and educated homeowners. We really stress that in our organization,” explains Operations Manager Anita Badrock. All Community Home Trust applicants must complete a free, one-hour orientation session about its home buying process. Also, they now have a two certified Homebuyer Educators on staff, so if applicants need to improve their credit, or need help determining what type of home they can afford, they can meet with the counselor to discuss their individual financial situation.

Community Home Trust applicants are also required to attend an eight-hour Certified First Time Homebuyers’ Education class. These classes are free and taught by certified homebuyer educators and local experts from various fields. Some of the many topics covered include figuring out how big a home one can realistically afford, learning about the unanticipated costs of homeownership, hiring an inspector and an appraiser, obtaining homeowner’s insurance, and keeping up with the maintenance of the property. These classes are also open to the public as well, and are offered once a month. They provides Home Trust applicants and the Orange County community at large with the essential tools needed to navigate through the home buying process. Also many mortgage lenders will offer a better interest rate to anyone who completes a Certified Homebuyer class because they are less likely to default on their mortgage.

Anita adds, “If someone is serious about owning a home, they might not walk in ready, but we are going to hang with them and help them get ready. If they need to work on better credit or saving some more money, we will help. Sometimes it takes a few years to get there, but we help them all along the way. The one thing that is really important to us, if people want to achieve home ownership, we will try our best to help them do that.”

The Cooper Family, CHR Homeowners Since 2005


With these innovations in place, along with an extremely dedicated staff, the Community Home Trust is accomplishing its mission to help low- to moderate-income families live in the very communities in which they work, and to keep its properties permanently affordable. Since 1999, the Community Home Trust has helped almost 280 families purchase homes throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC, and not one Home Trust home has ever been foreclosed on.

Every Home Trust applicant must meet these four criteria:

  • Must be a first time homebuyer or not have owned a home within the last three years. There are special exceptions for displaced homemakers.
  • Must earn 80% or below the area median income. Applicants earning between 80% and 115% of the area median income can purchase certain homes in the inventory.
  • Must live or work in Orange County.
  • The Home Trust home must be your primary residence.

Half of these Home Trust homeowners work for one of our area’s three largest employers: The University of North Carolina, UNC Hospitals, or Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, where teachers represent 12% of Home Trust home purchasers. In 2011, 22% of the Home Trust households were headed by single mothers, and other Home Trust homeowners include fire fighters, nurses, public school teachers, assistant professors at UNC-CH, freelance writers, researchers, bus drivers, employees of local non-profit organizations and senior citizens living on a fixed income.

They are all people who play a vital role in supporting our community, but they cannot afford to live here. “The only difference between our homebuyers and the ones buying homes privately is that they make less money,” says Anita Badrock. “The reason why it is so difficult to live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro in the first place, is that there aren’t a whole lot of homes that are in that price range, under $200,000.” The median 2010 sales price of a home in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area was $323,300, whereas the average cost of a Home Trust home was $102,000.


To address the need of affordable housing further, Chapel Hill is now requiring that 15% of all new housing developments must be sold as affordable housing. This is the way that the Community Home Trust acquires the majority of its properties. They currently have 194 homes in the program throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro, including 15 condos at Greenbridge, 34 condos at East 54, and they will soon be selling 18 condos at the new development being built at 140 West Franklin Street. The Community Home Trust buys the homes from developers at below market value, using funding from government grants and donors, and then they sell them back to Home Trust applicants on a sliding scale, depending on what the applicant can afford.

The benefits of Home Trust homeownership are innumerable. Mortgage payments on Home Trust homes are always much lower than rents, which in this area, are high relative to salaries, and they are not raised every year, which is typical for rental properties. One current Home Trust homeowner, who works with a local non-profit that helps our homeless population, contacted the Community Home Trust after his landlord raised his rent twice in one year. He will never have to deal with that again! Also, property taxes are determined not by the market value of the property, but by the price paid for it, which is also much more affordable. The Home Trust also works with homeowner associations, when applicable, to keep the monthly dues affordable to all residents. Additionally, with the 99-year lease in place, with the option to renew, not having to move in another year, or ever, brings stability and peace-of-mind to a family. Home Trust homes can even be bequeathed to heirs.

Another way the Home Trust keeps homes affordable is by handling its re-sales in-house. They are a full-service brokerage firm with licensed realtors. Home Trust realtors are salaried staff, not commissioned agents. Thus, when a Home Trust homeowner wants to sell their home, the selling process is often easier than it would be in the private sector. They manage all the open houses and handle all the paperwork, assuring that the process goes smoothly, just like any commissioned realtor would. Being able to work with the same people who sold you your home, to sell your home, makes it a lot less stressful.

There is one more Home Trust homeowner advantage that the Community Home Trust never anticipated, and it is a frequent occurrence. “If you are looking for romance and want to get married, buy a Home Trust home!” laughs Anita, though she jokingly notes that they are not an official dating service. “The single biggest reason we find for selling a Home Trust home is because a homeowner gets married, and they outgrow their home. With the added second household income, their means increases. The family grows, they have a kid or two, and they want to expand. Then most of our homeowners buy a bigger home in the private sector.”

Elizabeth Garfunkel with Her Sons, CHR Homeowner Since 2008


Offering affordable housing to low- to moderate-income residents not only benefits the new homeowner, but also strengthens our entire community. Tamara couldn’t agree more. “Owning a home where you work makes you rooted to the community. When you no longer have to commute hours to work anymore, you keep your money here, you shop here, you give your time here, you donate here, and your kids go to school here. You have more time to get involved with the local community. If they can’t live in the community they contribute to, I think it becomes a less desirable community to be in. I don’t want to live in a community where the people that support me, and make it such a great place to live in, can’t live there.”

Anita offers one great example about how our community suffers by pricing our lower-middle class out of it. “Think about when we have one of our major ice storms. We need to staff the emergency room. Who is checking people in at the door, triaging people, taking blood pressure, and in the operating room helping the doctor scrub for surgery? If they have to drive from an hour away, and there is snow and ice on the ground, or there is a wreck on I-40, what happens? Everyone suffers. It’s an economic hit for everyone. And for a lot of people, if they can’t get to work, they don’t get paid. It’s just a tragedy to be in a community, if that community can’t support the people who support that community. It’s about the safety of our community and the ability of our community to run.”


The staff at the Community Home Trust is clearly devoted to its cause, which is another reason for their success. They have a vested interest in supporting our community, because they live and work in our community.

Development and Communications Manager, Tamara Watson, moved to Carrboro from Northern Virginia in 2009 when her husband decided to attend UNC-CH for graduate school. One of her husband’s co-workers was a North Carolina native and told her, “When you move down there, a neighbor is going to come over and welcome you with a cake.” She thought that only happened in the movies. “Sure enough,” Tamara reflects, “as soon as we moved in, our neighbor came over with a cake to welcome us. We were stunned. Everyone was just so warm and inviting. I was very struck by the wonderful community here. I loved the small town feel, but with the major universities nearby, there are still a lot of things to do. I’ve only been here less than three years and I bump into someone I know wherever I go. I love that I have so many connections in this community. People do look after people here, and I now know why people don’t leave. I have a lot of friends who went to Carolina and everyone told me how lucky I was to be able to live here. One of them even gave me a little booklet she made where she cut out the different restaurants and places to go in town, like, Top of the Hill, Foster’s and Mama Dips. I was shocked with how obsessed people were with this area. It’s a very unique community.”

Operations Manager Anita Badrock has lived in Chapel Hill for 34 years, and serves on many local boards and committees. She moved here as a freshman in 1978 to attend UNC-CH from a tiny Western North Carolina town of 250 people. “’Wow!’ was my first impression,” she remembers. “Just wow! That’s all I could say. It was bigger and much more liberal, yet it was still manageable. It was the perfect transition for a girl that grew up on a farm to, well, life… the big life! My father and his father were both UNC graduates, so there was a lot of family history here.” I asked her how Chapel Hill has changed over the last 34 years. “Chapel Hill is still Chapel Hill. It is still recognizable to me. Some things have changed, people move in, businesses come and go, and new roads are built. But it is still Chapel Hill. It has the same heart that I walked into in 1978, and Franklin Street is still the holy ground of Chapel Hill, as far as I’m concerned.”

Robert Dowling, Tamara Watson & Anita Badrock Celebrating the Non-Profit of the Year Award, 2012


Once a little known non-profit, quietly providing an essential community service of affordable housing, the Community Land Trust is now getting the attention and acknowledgement they deserve. In January 2012, the Community Home Trust won the competitive Non-Profit of the Year Award given by the Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce.

They are also spreading the word about their organization with community bus tours twice a year to show political and community leaders, heads of foundations, and any residents who are interested, the many Home Trust homes in our area and to meet Home Trust homeowners. Every year, they also host a fundraiser at Greenbridge, to raise money for the organization and to create community awareness about the services they provide. Last year’s fundraiser was emceed by former UNC basketball player Hubert Davis, there was a silent auction, and every former living Mayor of Chapel Hill was in attendance, serving as honorary co-chairs. There is also an annual picnic in October at Wilson Park that is open to the public where children can decorate pumpkins and enjoy many other planned activities.

My husband won the auction for this UNC Basketball at the Greenbridge Fundraiser

Another fun Community Home Trust event happens every first weekend in December. Through the generous sponsorship of Harrington Bank, the Community Home Trust offers our community a free showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Varsity Theatre. Elected officials, fire chiefs, Home Trust homeowners, UNC students, and people who just want a fun night out come together with their families and watch this holiday classic. There are Community Home Trust brochures on the table at the front door, and instead of movie previews, a slide show runs before the movie with photos and information about the Home Trust. Then a Home Trust homeowner shares their story, which is always the highlight of the show.


Anyone who is interested in learning more about becoming a Home Trust homeowner, or would like to support their efforts in providing affordable housing in our wonderful community, can visit their web site, From their home page, you can download an application, sign up for their e-newsletter, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or make a donation. Executive Director, Robert Dowling, and Tamara Watson are also available to speak to civic organizations, other community groups and the press about the affordable housing services they offer.

Keeping housing affordable is essential for a thriving and functioning community. The Chapel Hill/Carrboro area is extremely fortunate to have the Community Home Trust strengthening our community home by home. To donate directly to Community Home Trust, visit The Recorder Quarter donation web page.

Category: Causes

Comments are closed.