The State College Community Land Trust: An Asset for the Highlands

by Peg Hambrick

Are you a homeowner?  Then you may remember the joy—and anxiety—of buying your first home.

In 1976, Don and I bought our first home.  Located in College Heights, that 3-bedroom, 2-bath brick Cape Cod cost $42,600.  Based on national statistics, that same home today may cost over $300,000, which mirrors the current median price of a home in State College Borough.

Is that a price out of reach for many first-time homebuyers?  In a word, “yes.”

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost-burdened.  So,what would a household have to earn in order to afford a “median-priced” State College home that doesn’t require more than 30 per cent of income?  It’s a difficult question to answer and dependent on individual circumstances.  In general, though, today’s first-time homebuyers in State College are in the low-to-moderate income range ($49,440-65,900 for a family of four, according to HUD guidelines) and saddled with college debt, credit card obligations, and auto loans, all of which make qualifying for a mortgage for a $300,000+ home very difficult.  And these burdens are on top of food, medical, transportation,child care, and energy costs.  In total, these financial obligations preclude first-timers from buying a home in State College.

Here’s where the State College Community Land Trust helps.  With our community land trust model, homeowners purchase the home but lease the land in a long-term agreement with the SCCLT.

By taking the cost of the land out of the purchase price (typically one-third of the overall price), SCCLT homes are far more affordable than homes sold on the open market; in turn, a much smaller mortgage is required.  Additionally, all applicants receive free budget counseling, helping them understand and manage their finances in the long-term, whether or not they qualify for an SCCLT home.

What is this organization with a very long name?  The State College Community Land Trust (SCCLT) is a private, nonprofit, community-based organization whose mission is to create affordable homeownership opportunities for residents of State College.  Established by the State College Borough Council in 1996, and one of approximately ten community land trusts in Pennsylvania, the SCCLT has purchased and rehabbed 43homes, built two net-zero energy ready homes, and assisted 67 households in obtaining the dream of homeownership. Thirteen of these homes are in the Highlands neighborhood.

As a community, why should we help first-time homeowners buy a home in State College?  Why does home ownership matter?  According to Freddie Mac, homeownership has a triple bottom line:  it provides the owner with financial and emotional stability; it is the underpinning of a stable community(contributing taxes, more volunteerism, increased community health, and lower crime rate); and it is a major driving force in the local and national economy.

But let’s get personal.  Thanks to the efforts of the SCCLT and our supportive community, 13 families live in Highlandshomes that are now owner-occupied and will continue to be because of the community land trust model.

A quick survey of Highlands neighbors who have purchased SCCLT homes indicates that they love living in our neighborhood for the same reasons many Highlanders do:  proximity to high-caliber schools, work, transportation, services, and recreation.  Most notably, one respondent was “car-free,” while others replied that they can get along with one car.  One respondent hoped for additional affordable home programs, so that others could afford the benefits of owning a home in the Borough.  Most said they would still be renting if not for the opportunity to buy through the SCCLT.  Another neighbor emphasized “I love driving around our neighborhood and looking at all of the homes, so much variety in architecture and size and color and style, it’s creatively inspiring.”

SCCLT Neighbors’ Homes in the Highlands

Want to help share the opportunity of home ownership in State College Borough?  The SCCLT is always looking for volunteers to serve on its committees, such as our new initiative, Energy+, to improve the energy efficiency of our aging housing stock.  Also, the organization is always prospecting to buy homes or land in the Borough, and always looking for interested applicants.  Colleen Ritter, Executive Director, may be contacted at (814) 867-0656 or email her at  Or talk to one of our Highlands neighbors who serve on the SCCLT Board:  Joe Cortazzo, Polly Dunn, Ron Filippelli, Michael Joyce and Susan Venegoni.

Peg Hambrick and her husband Don returned to State College and moved to the Highlands in 2002, after living in the New York City area for 23 years.  She has been a volunteer for the State College Community Land Trust since 2003 and is a member of the Hearts in the Highlands editorial board.