An integral element of the American Dream continues to be home ownership. In spite of numerous challenges, many people still aspire to live in a home of their own. Rising prices, wages that have not kept up with inflation, onerous student debt, and people’s mobile lives have all contributed to fewer people being able to get into a house. The Thurston Housing Land Trust is an emerging local organization dedicated to creating, developing, and preserving affordable housing for low to moderate income using a community land trust model.

This is the plan in its simplicity: the Thurston Housing Land Trust maintains ownership of the land and the homeowner pays for the building. Taking the cost of the land out of the equation lowers the price significantly, putting the house in a more affordable price range. The Land Trust leases the ground for a nominal fee. With grants and donations, the Land Trust can facilitate refurbishment of homes, offer some mortgage support, and allow people to move in with much smaller down payments than typically required. Thereafter, the properties are meant to remain affordable. Formulas have been designed so that when a current owner wants or needs to sell, it is possible, but at a price that will keep it affordable for the incoming buyer. Current owners can expect to get out what they put in, but not to cash in on exorbitant increases.

This style of ownership is happening across the US with great success. Neighborhoods where abandoned houses were being squatted in and used as drug havens have been repurposed to legitimate home ownership, recreating areas that are desirable and safe for families. Often nearby groups of land trust properties join together like old-fashioned neighborhoods in order to share a lawn mower and other yard tools or to keep an eye on each other’s children or aging parents. Another powerful use of the land trust is cooperative housing. For example, like-minded groups, such as senior women, can buy a house together and set up a democratic membership to handle maintenance, insurance, and home chores. The model can also be used for younger buyers.

Karen Nelson and Gail O'Sullivan
Business partners and friends Karen Nelson and Gail O’Sullivan stand in front of a house owned by Nelson, a potential property for the Thurston Housing Land Trust. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

Thurston Housing Land Trust had been in conversation for many years, but has recently taken strides to move ahead. With support from the NW Cooperative Development Center it is now an operating non-profit agency with an elected board. It is expected that the 501c3 status will be completed this spring, allowing the organization to apply for federal, state, county, and local funding sources. Additionally, people interested in making a donation of a house and property will enjoy the full tax benefits.

You might be wondering, “Where will properties in the trust originate?” There are multiple ways this can happen. When people do their estate planning, they may want to support particular agencies or programs. Giving a property to the land trust creates a legacy – truly making a difference in the lives of all concerned. Some people have no heirs or simply prefer to give their assets elsewhere. Giving your property to the land trust has particular tax advantages.

The current board includes President and Board Chair Dan Rubin, a long-time resident with a career in government and nonprofit management. Susan Davenport is serving as the Vice President. She grew up with cooperative living, which inspired her to be an initiator and founding board member. Keith Henderson, CPA, is a Lessee Trustee and Financial Officer. He was a public school teacher and also involved with programs for at-risk people. Gail O’Sullivan serves a Secretary. Her interests in affordable housing, cooperative living and the good of the community have inspired her long time associations in Olympia, such as her nonprofit The Commons at Fertile Ground. Paul Knox is a member who brings experience as a former director of United Way of Thurston County. His community leadership includes being the founding executive of the Washington Asset Building Coalition.

Susan Davenport and Jerry Bustamante
Susan Davenport and Jerry Bustamante serve on the board for the Thurston Housing Land Trust, making housing an affordable option for low to middle income people. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

Jerry Bustamante, Trustee, is working diligently in outreach and legislative advocacy. Public Trustee Allie Upton’s brings experience as Housing Director for South Puget Sound Habit for Humanity. She works with low-income families, affordable housing and the required support mechanisms. Zahis Chaudy is also a Public Trustee. It’s a mighty and dedicated group!

To see land trust in action, you can watch a video called Home and Hands. For more information, check out the Thurston Housing Land Trust’s website. The regional organization is called the Northwest Community Land Trust Coalition and it also has info and help. You can become a member if you are interested. The current board is available to look at potential properties. If you have a particular skill, such as grant writing, the board invites you to connect with them.

If you want to have someone talk to your group about land trusts or arrange a fundraiser, they want to hear from you. The Land Trust would also like to talk with groups of people looking to create cooperative housing units. The Thurston Housing Land Trust is a powerful new avenue for our community to address affordable housing.

You can write to the Land Trust at

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