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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 5, 2014
H.O.M.E. rescues Sedgwick land from foreclosure
Covenant Community Land Trust report

by Anne Berleant

H.O.M.E. Co-op of Orland has stepped in to bail out Covenant Community Land Trust, paying about $10,000 owed in back taxes on 85 acres in Sedgwick and saving a Patten Pond house from foreclosure. Both are Covenant CLT properties.

H.O.M.E. rescued it,” said Covenant CLT board co-secretary Gerald Botta.

The Covenant Community Land Trust was born in the late 1970s by Sister Lucy Poulin as a way to help 30 women left unemployed after a local shoe factory closed. She founded H.O.M.E. Co-op, located in Orland as the Covenant CLT. It now operates as a sister organization to the land trust, which owns 150 acres in Sedgwick, Dedham and on Patten Pond in Orland.

“Historically, [Covenant] has been intertwined with H.O.M.E,” Botta said at the trust’s annual meeting, held on May 29 at the Congregational Church of Blue Hill.

The Sedgwick property, located off Ridge Road, covers 85 acres, with 12 individually owned houses; 70 acres are deemed common land, with the one-acre house plots leased from Covenant CLT for 99 years. The lease fees are meant to cover property taxes and road maintenance costs.

However, the assessed value of the land shot from $71,775 in 2006, to $541,700 one year later, and the lease fees couldn’t cover the property tax. Taxes jumped from $1,327 in 2006 to $4,057 in 2007 and have continued at that rate through 2013.

“Families were struggling [and] they’ve been struggling ever since,” said Botta.

The CLT is now working to make each homeowner responsible for the taxes on their one-acre plot.

“We’re working with the town of Sedgwick to make that happen,” said Botta. “Taxes are paid up and we are working to the future.”

A little history

Community land trusts, sprung in part from the back-to-land movement in the 1970s, aim to share land with “people excluded from the political and economic mainstream,” said movement theorist Bob Swan, in a video shown at the annual meeting.

In practice, community land trusts purchase land to build affordable housing, with deed covenants in place controlling the resale prices. In 2012, there were 260 CLTs in the United States, in rural and, increasingly, urban areas.

The first funds for community land trusts came from the Catholic Church, said Obediah “Ralph” Greene, who was involved with the early CLT movement and knew Swan and Chuck Matthieu, the man who helped put CLT theory into practice.

“It’s been a long and troubling experience in some respects because the concept was so new,” Greene said.

A grant, and a new president

Covenant CLT was recently awarded $4,000 from the Maine Community Foundation as a “capacity building grant,” reported board member Rosa Moore, who is also a member of the fundraising committee.

Those funds will help build a website and produce promotional materials. “It’s a start,” Moore said.

Moore, Botta and newly-elected co-secretary Joshua Prochaska are the younger faces of the Covenant CLT and make up the fundraising committee.

“We really need to build our capacity up to meet the needs of the community… [and] begin to knit the community into something we can show to the world,” Moore said.

The Covenant CLT is not a wealthy organization. Treasurer Louie Gobel, of Sedgwick, reported $368.63 in its checking account, $6.91 in its maintenance account and $0.22 in its “other services” account.

Gobel was unanimously re-elected as treasurer, as was Greene as president, after Kelly Samperi, of Sedgwick, stepped down, citing lack of time and experience.

“The people who have been working on it have come so far…I’m just not the right person to lead it right now,” she said.

Greene, a recorded Quaker minister who served as an interim minister in 2008-09 at the Baptist Church in Sedgwick accepted the appointment on a one-year interim basis. He also gave his report on the Dedham Covenant CLT property.

Greene lives in one of the eight houses in the Dedham Covenant CLT, where there are “one or two” vacant houses, one house that recently burned down and a high turnover “because we are renting [houses], which I think is contrary to what the land trust concept is.”

“The positive signs are in the possibilities of what can happen,” he concluded.

The Covenant Community Land Trust holds its next meeting on June 19, at the Market Stand in Orland at 6 p.m.