Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Teddy-Bear Ladies

The Up-Block-Down-House* has long been a perplexing study for my fellow house-historians and I. 

As lovely and comfortable as it is, my home of the last 2.5 years is nonetheless riddled with oddities that have stumped even some of my best friends, highly-esteemed for their knowledge of turn-of-the-century architecture, as well as common twentieth-century home changes in Minneapolis.

Questions that have plagued us include:

Why is the second flight of foyer stairs steeper than the third?

Did my office used to be the kitchen?

Is the kitchen an addition?

Was the house ever duplexed?

Why are so many blocks stamped “UP” laid UPSIDE-DOWN?

Why is my house-mate’s studio floor different from the rest of the wood?

And the list goes on…

But I wasn’t thinking about ANY of this today. 

In fact, I hadn’t thought of these things for quite some time. You see, I’ve grown comfortable in my home. Fond of it, in fact.

Those of you who have followed my blogging over the years may recall my mostly-chipper attitude about the acquisition of this house, even in the face of its utterly revolting state

But what you may not know is that I actually hated this place. I hated it not for what it was, but rather for the change to my life which it signified.

I had been going through a breakup. a protracted, painful, mind-bending experience, about which even the closest of my friends were not really and truly informed.

I left my beloved Healy House to come here… to this… this… place. This place where I would live all alone, ripping filthy carpet and scrubbing filthy ceilings until (I thought) I became so fully coated in UBDH residue that my tears of rage and anguish would be absorbed by a crusty shell.

And indeed that happened. And I lived like that for some time.

A hermit of sorts, as I struggled to figure out who I was, where I was, and what it all meant. And for a time, it pretty much sucked.

And BFF came.

And Uncle Ray.

And then Geri(P)atric.

And before I knew it, we were painting. And we were decorating. And we were cooking and living like undamaged people.

And we were celebrating holidays.

And at some point along the way, it became my home. Along with all of these people, and this neighborhood, and these dogs.

And I became whole again, without even really noticing the specific moment at which that occurred.

So as it happens, and as I prepare to sell this place and move onto the next exciting phase in my life, it was all of THIS that I was considering today, with a great sense of comfort and satisfaction, when I spied the white minivan pull up in front of the UBDH from the comfort of my –now lovely- front porch.

Three elderly women exited, all staring at my home. As they made their way into the street and toward my house, I caught myself thinking “are they looking at the dinosaur? No wait – it’s on vacation at the Nevermind Gallery in St. Paul… WHAT ON EARTH are the doing?”

They were smiling and giddy, and as they came closer, I saw that two of them were holding teddy bears, and the third a digital camera.

Before I could react, they saw me on the porch and one of them giggled, before stating loudly “well we should ask HER!”

Slightly embarrassed at having been caught spying from my porch, I got up and walked out to meet them.

And oh…

It turned out that two of them were sisters. Sisters who had grown up in THIS, MY HOUSE – THIS UP-BLOCK-DOWN-HOUSE, FIFTY YEARS AGO.

I nearly fainted when they told me that.

I wish I could adequately describe either their happiness or mine, but words truly escape me with respect to that particular sense. But suffice it to say, I was overwhelmed. In a good way.

We took photos of them on the front stoop with their childhood teddy bears, and I invited them in to see (after so many years) the same funny staircase, with the banister they had slid down as girls, and the porch that no longer has French doors (THE PORCH HAD FRENCH DOORS?!) and learn about how their parents housed a family of seven on just the first level of my house… because yes, in the middle of the last century, it was in fact used as a duplex.

And it brought tears to my eyes.

Though when I bought this place I didn’t think of it as a home, it WAS a home to others in the past. So special, in fact, that they came back 50 years later, from places like Elk River and Andover, to see if it was still here. And they brought their teddy bears.

And in spite of its long hiatus as a vacant, broken-down foreclosure…

…and before that a rental by a notorious slumlady…

…site of chronic drug-dealing and heart-wrenching family violence…

It has become a safe and wonderful home AGAIN.

My home.

*So named by the BFF for the curious inversion of several basement blocks, embossed with the letters UP

Community Land Trust = Most Expensive Affordable Housing in Hawthorne?

Some of you may have noticed my soft spot for the Hawthorne neighborhood. 

I’m not sure if it’s that I just always love the underdog, or perhaps a challenge, but whatever it is, I find myself paying an inordinate amount of attention to this small neighborhood on the opposite end of the Northside from my own.*

In terms of real estate values, Hawthorne may well be the single most depressed neighborhood in all of the City of Minneapolis. Indeed, over the last four months, the average sold price for single-family residences in that neighborhood was a mere $39,085.

(click to enlarge) 

So knowing this, and being able to count a healthy and growing number of friends who today live MORTGAGE-FREE in NoMi as a result of these ridiculously low prices, is it any wonder that I was a little taken aback to hear that the non-profit Urban Homeworks had decided to sell their newest Hawthorne listing as a Community Land Trust property?

What does this mean, you may ask? Right right – let’s talk about exactly what that means:

The City of Lakes Community Land Trust promotes a model of “homeownership” which is supposed to preserve affordability, among other things. Here’s a little background from their website:

The City of Lakes Community Land Trust resulted from a collective, committed effort by Minneapolis residents and neighborhood associations to preserve affordable housing ownership in their community. 
In late 2001, a collaboration of Powderhorn Residents Group (PRG), Seward Redesign, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA), and the Lyndale Neighborhood Development Corporation (LNDC) began educating themselves on best practices relating to creating and stabilizing affordability in their neighborhoods. 
Through research, community conversations, an environmental scan, and the identification of opportunities, the collaborative group determined that there was a significant need in the City of Minneapolis to form a Community Land Trust (CLT). 
Housed and incubated by PRG, the collaboration incorporated as the City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT) in August 2002 and acquired its 501(c)(3) status in August 2003. 
The CLCLT hired its first staff person in October 2002.  Current CLCLT staff consists of three employees (two full-time and one part-time). To date, the CLCLT has assisted over 70 low- and moderate-income households into CLCLT homeownership since the fall of 2004 and anticipates adding another 20-30 households over the next 18-24 months.   
The mission of the CLCLT is to provide and foster stewardship of perpetually affordable home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income families throughout Minneapolis and is achieved through three major objectives, including:
• Assisting households that otherwise would never be able to purchase a home responsibly in having the ability to do so;• Ensuring that, if and when the homeowner(s) decide to sell, the CLCLT is there to keep the home(s) affordable for other income-qualified households; and• Provide support necessary for CLCLT homeowners be successful in homeownership. 
Nationally, there are over 150 CLT’s, which work to create perpetually affordable housing while simultaneously balancing escalating housing market appreciation with the ability to meet housing needs for low- to moderate-income homebuyers. 
CLT’s provide permanently affordable housing by owning the land of a particular property but selling the home on the land to an income-qualified buyer.  The homeowner then leases the land from the CLT through a 99-year, renewable ground lease. 
The ground lease connects the homeowner to the community and to keeping the house permanently affordable by including a resale formula that determines the home’s CLT sale price and the homeowner’s share of the home’s increased value at the time of sale. 
This mechanism facilitates the initial investment made in the home by public and private subsidy sources remaining with the home to make it affordable to subsequent, income-qualified buyers.  
Now, that’s all well and good, and I’m very pleased about their three staff people and their commitment to affordability and all… but it really begs the question: Isn’t Hawthorne affordable ENOUGH already? And frankly, considering the fact that the property in question is currently listed at $130,000 (more than THREE TIMES the average sale price over the last four months in this neighborhood) one has to ask, is this really about affordability?

And yes, I am sure that the UH property is (will be when the rehab is completed) in better condition than much of its active competition in Hawthorne right now. And if anyone wants to check, here's that inventory list:

(once again, click to enlarge)

But here are two important things to keep in mind with respect to that notion:

First, a CLT sale includes the house ONLY. So, for one hundred and thirty thousand dollars, you, my friend, do not actually become the owner of real estate. You become the owner of an improvement (the house) and enter into a lease for the land.

Second, even if the competing houses are in poorer shape, they are SO much cheaper, that even when combined with rehab costs, they’re mostly going to end up more affordable than the UH/CLT property.

So, what gives?

I’d really like to know, personally… because I find this highly perplexing.

 Oh, and here's the house:

 I do admit that it's got good bones... 

But so do a whole lot of other homes in Hawthorne that wouldn't sell for such a price in this decade.

*Oh, and I also love a deal – so there’s that as well.