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Editorial: Land trust pilfers the potential for wealth

Residents of Buffalo’s Fruit Belt have every right to be concerned about gentrification, given the burgeoning Medical Campus right at their doorstep.

Home values are starting to rise, but so is the rent. These are signs of progress. But they come at a price. It could push people out of their homes. That’s the concern, and a legitimate one that should be addressed.

Some Fruit Belt residents are hopeful about the idea of a land trust. It may not be the right option, at least not for homeowners who might be able to take an offer by an interested buyer. Homeownership is often the bridge to wealth. Forming a land trust and essentially stunting the value of parcels that might have been sold on the open market is not the answer.

Gentrification has not hit that 34-block neighborhood, yet, so creating a land trust is premature, in any case. Moreover, there are a lot of unanswered questions on how it would work and who would pay for it.

The exploration into the land trust began a couple of years ago, and supporters last summer visited the Dudley Street area of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. They looked at it as a possible land trust model for the Fruit Belt. Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen’s district includes the Fruit Belt. He wants the land trust to happen “sooner, rather than later,” but perhaps he should not be so anxious. There are a number of logistics that need to be worked out with funding at the top of the agenda. The city is offering to sell up to 20 of the roughly 200 vacant Fruit Belt lots it owns. The Fruit Belt Advisory Council would like an additional six to eight parcels for commercial space to construct an office building to house the land trust offices.

So here’s how it might go: Once established, the land trust serves as a sort of developer, acquiring and owning the land and maintaining it. The trust would be in charge of building houses that could either be rented or owned. But there would be a cap put in place on the allowable profit if the house were sold.

Establishing a land trust is difficult, with many block clubs, community groups and politics to consider. And it may rob residents of future wealth. There has to be another way of keeping people in their homes without smothering the opportunity that comes with rising land values and a market economy.

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