The photos on the counter and computer of Shaquitta Bell thread two themes — her family and the city where they've all always lived.
"I'm that person who's born and raised in Atlanta," Bell said. "Pretty much never been anywhere else. So home is home for me."
So when she saw her future home, an affordable new build in a rising Atlanta neighborhood — she bought it immediately. Only in the moment did she learn about the reason she could afford it.
"I actually saw this house before I even knew what the Atlanta Land Trust was and what they did," Bell said.
Land trusts are, in recent years, a reaction to the rising crisis in affordable housing. The median price of a home has doubled in the last 15 years. Mortgage rates have reached heights not seen in 20 years, giving first-time homebuyers fewer ways to enter the market.
Amanda Rhein runs the Atlanta Land Trust. Their model is like many land trusts: They own the land but sell the house where it sits at an affordable price. Those who buy can build equity, though not as much as on the open market. When they sell, the price remains affordable for the next buyer.
"Today the Atlanta Land Trust has 180 homes in development," Rhein said. "Two years ago, we had maybe a quarter of that in development."
But in those two years, they raised nearly $14 million for new projects. Meanwhile, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced the creation of an Affordable Housing Strike Force, designed to procure and preserve 20,000 affordable housing units by numerous means.
The need is urgent — and not just in Atlanta.
"The challenge that all these cities are facing is budget constraints," said Terri Montague, who teaches at Emory University after serving seven years at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "What we see happening [in Atlanta] is happening in Boston and particularly on the West Coast, where they have just extraordinarily high land costs. The people they are competing with are buying entire blocks. They have an infrastructure. They are cash-rich."
Those squeezed out are often like Shaquitta Bell. She put her career on hold when the family — mainly her grandmother — took priority.
"She had a stroke," Bell said, "after I graduated from college, and I went home and pretty much just took care of her. I assumed most of that responsibility."
Two years ago, her grandmother passed away. Bell mourned, then moved forward, working two jobs and saving enough to afford her new home, near her family and in her city.
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