Living Columns & Blogs

State College Community Land Trust focuses what sustainability means for homeownership

The State College Community Land Trust has been fostering homeownership since 1996. During this time, 63 households have made a SCCLT house home. The SCCLT strives toward building community through homeownership and creating sustainable neighborhoods.

What does sustainability mean for homeownership? The SCCLT has focused on this question in recent years through our GreenBuild project, a pair of net-zero energy ready homes that two families will purchase this July. With their high-performance design, we expect utility costs in these homes to average just $15 per month. The SCCLT and our partners hope that this model will be adapted throughout Centre County and beyond.

This definition of sustainability is primarily financial, in that homeowners can occupy their home at a lower expense. The design of these homes means they will use less energy from the grid and will even produce a surplus on some days. Money saved on monthly utility bills can go toward other expenses or reduce the amount of income the household requires, freeing up time to do other things.

Land trusts, like the SCCLT and Centre County Housing and Land Trust, also define sustainability as permanent affordability. SCCLT owns the land underneath our homes, so when a first-time homebuyer purchases a house he or she leases the land. The land lease requires that upon resale the house will be sold to another income-qualified buyer. As such, when a SCCLT home changes hands, it is sold for less than the appraised value to another income-qualified buyer, thereby preserving the affordability of the home permanently. This long-term affordability guarantees that State College remains a place where a diverse population can thrive.

Another way that sustainability and homeownership intertwine is having homes in which people can stay as they age, and as family circumstances change. Many of our homes meet this definition by being easily adaptable to single-floor living and by being near groceries, transit and other necessities, for all levels of accessibility.

Our newest definition of sustainability centers on meeting the challenge of a changing energy economy. We have already learned, through GreenBuild, that energy efficiency enhances both ecological and economic sustainability, but how can we extend those benefits to our other 40 homes, and homeowners? Learning how to do that is our focus as GreenBuild nears completion. We are creating a homeowner capital investment fund to put energy efficiency at the fore of capital improvements homeowners make in coming years. We are looking at state, federal and private programs for inspiration. If you have expertise or resources to share on this topic, please reach out. We look forward to keeping enthusiasm for sustainability high as we transition from GreenBuild into our next phase.

Colleen Ritter is executive director of State College Community Land Trust.