Community land trusts make home ownership possible for more Michiganders

This series, Block by Block, is supported by FHLBank Indianapolis, IFF, and CEDAM, and follows emerging and diverse developers building affordable housing in Michigan.
A family poses in front of their ICCF community land trust home.
As Grand Rapids’ population growth steadily rises faster than the rest of the state, the need for housing continues. Many Michigan communities are looking internally for unique solutions to the staggering housing shortage problem — a housing gap with nearly 35,000 units needed by 2027. One of these unique solutions lies in the idea of the community land trust (CLT).

CLTs are nonprofit organizations governed by a board of CLT residents, community residents, and public representatives to share assets and equity in homeownership opportunities. Their focus is on community ownership to create permanent opportunities for affordable home ownership. 

Across the state, CLTs include Dwelling Place Regional 2080 Union Housing Development in Grand Rapids, Grand Haven Community Land Trust, Dream of Detroit, a Muslim-led CLT, The Storehouse of Hope in Detroit, Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) Community Homes Land Trust in Grand Rapids, and others. 

The ICCF CLT provides affordable homes for income-qualifying residents. The goal is to keep the homes affordable, even decades into the future. ICCF Community Homes is the oldest nonprofit affordable housing provider in the entire state. Since 1974, over 2,000 households have received housing-related services from the nonprofit. ICCF also manages over 600 units of rental housing to neighbors across the West Michigan community. 

Dakota RiehlDakota Riehl is a senior real estate development manager at ICCF. Riehl works on development activities, covering the full spectrum of housing needs. 

“We do everything from concept to construction of development projects, which could range from single-family homes that will be sold for home ownership to multifamily communities for affordable rental housing,” Riehl says.

Jan van der Woerd has been at ICCF for 10 years and is the vice president of real estate development and management. He spoke about the organization’s mission. 

“ICCF is an organization that has a ton of variety in the services we provide,” van der Woerd says. “Our mission statement is equitable opportunities, affordable homes, and thriving neighborhoods. This is sort of the ethos of our service and work in West Michigan, Grand Rapids and heading toward the lakeshore.”

ICCF started in the ‘70s, during a time of racial uprisings and inequities in the community, as a means to work towards housing justice. van der Woerd says the faith-based, inclusive organization especially uplifts people of color, women, families, and those experiencing financial burdens. 

CLTs include Dwelling Place 2080 Union Housing Development (above) and ICCF Community Homes Land Trust in Grand Rapids, Grand Haven Community Land Trust, and Dream of Detroit and The Storehouse of Hope in Detroit.
Riehl says ICCF focuses on keeping homeownership affordable forever. 

“CLTs acquire and hold parcels of land in a geographic area that they deem as their target area,” she says. “Then they’ll sell the improvements or homes on top of it with an agreement that the owner will share that affordable homeownership opportunity with the next buyer. Rather than the traditional form of development and homeownership sales, CLTs really do focus on ensuring that affordable homeownership doesn’t go extinct, and that these opportunities exist for neighbors who might struggle to compete in the open market.”

Jan van der WoerdICCF focuses on education and home ownership opportunities for those systematically excluded. The organization has grown into the rental space in the last 10 to 12 years. Through services and resources, ICCF helps provide opportunities for people who are dealing with discriminatory housing practices, low housing inventory, skyrocketing costs, inflation, and poverty. 

“In our community land trust, we aim at providing homeownership opportunities with folks who are at about 90% average median income (AMI) level and, oftentimes, have special homes that are reserved for 80% of AMI,” Riehl says. “In Kent County, the AMI rate for a family of four at 90% AMI would be about $95,230 and an 80% AMI household would make about $75,750 — that’s who we’re serving actively.”

Although Grand Rapids is still viewed as an affordable community to buy a house in compared nationally, locally, the wages don’t line up. The city has seen an influx of out-of-state buyers and competitors, especially due to remote work changes brought on by the pandemic. According to van de Woerd, people from New York, Chicago, Seattle, and other bigger cities have flocked to the area due to lower housing prices and a large list of amenities. The level of starter homes is simply decreasing at a very fast rate. 

“If the tide is rising on housing costs and of limited availability, that means that the people who are income vulnerable — people of color or single parent households with multiple children — they’re now even less likely to be able to access homeownership and exit renting,” van der Woerd says. "That’s one of the components as to why ICCF invested so heavily in researching and working to set up a new program format, and we found the land trust.”

Interior of a new home within the Dwelling Place CLT in Grand Rapids.
Housing is a complex issue

To help educate residents and potential buyers, ICCF is a HUD-certified housing counseling agency, offering one-on-one counseling and education classes. As residents get further into the process of homebuying, Riehl says ICCF helps support them throughout the different stages. 

“We really try to walk alongside our neighbors, not only through their home-buying process, but ensuring they feel really informed and that they can understand all of the steps they’re taking,” Riehl says. “Homeownership for anybody is really confusing. It doesn’t matter if it’s your third home or your first, it’s a complicated process.”

Even after the home is bought, ICCF helps connect homeowners with contractors or lenders to help finance construction or renovations. 

ICCF’s office at 415 Martin Luther King Jr. St. SE is a good visual example of the work the organization does. The historic building has been the former Grand Rapids Christian High School and also the local Department of Health and Human Services. When it became an abandoned space, ICCF bought the building and brought it back to life in partnership with a church community that uses the auditorium space as their sanctuary. 

“There’s a YMCA daycare facility on-site, early childhood education, our offices, and there are 41 apartments upstairs,” van de Woerd says. “It’s a complex blend of financing and partnership that puts all of the components we value in one place.”

Riehl says the organization has current listings for available single-family renovated and new construction homes on the website, but there’s a waiting list for affordable renting units due to an incredibly high need. 

“We recently opened up the wait list, and in less than six hours, it was over capacity by about 120 households,” she says. “The need for rental housing is exceedingly high, the need for affordable home ownership is exceedingly high. We know home ownership is a big commitment, and it takes time to get all your ducks in a row to make a purchase.”

Housing is a complex issue, which has different solutions for each community, but for the Grand Rapids community, many entities are coming together to work towards the solution. 

“Grand Rapids is unique in that we have a very accessible community development and planning department. The city staff are very much ingrained in the realities of the community,” van der Woerd says. “In many ways, ICCF and our counterpart nonprofit organizations are providing a civil service, swimming against the market, and providing affordable housing when there’s no such things as affordable construction.”

Crystal Bravo is a real estate development associate at ICCF. Bravo works with the community land trust, managing sales of homes for potential families. She reviews applications, meets with families, and enjoys seeing their joy when going through the home ownership process. Bravo says community support internally and externally is crucial. 

“It makes a big impact when neighbors come together in support of projects that are being constructed in Grand Rapids,” Bravo says. “Not just at ICCF, but with other nonprofits as well — showing up and voicing your support of your neighbors makes a huge impact in the community.”

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new, interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at

Photos of Dwelling Place CLT by Tommy Allen.
Other photos courtesy ICCF and Dwelling Place.

This series, Block by Block, is supported by FHLBank Indianapolis, IFF, and CEDAM, and follows emerging and diverse developers building affordable housing in Michigan.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.