Use Shared Equity Mechanisms to Preserve Homeownership Subsidies

What is shared equity homeownership?

Shared equity homeownership is a unique approach to affordable homeownership. Under this approach, a state or local government provides funding to help a family purchase a home. In return, the government entity shares in the benefits of any home price appreciation that may occur while the family lives there. The public’s share of the home’s appreciation may be used in two ways: it can either be returned to the government in the form of a cash payment that can be used to help another family, or it can stay with the home, reducing its cost for the next family.

By sharing the gains in home price appreciation with the public investor, shared equity programs result in significant benefits now and for years to come. Homebuyers benefit from a substantially lower home price and the opportunity for significant home equity gains. Communities benefit by retaining vital workers who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in the communities they serve. And, by ensuring that the public’s investment keeps pace with the housing market, shared equity strategies allow governments to help generations of families achieve homeownership with a single initial investment.

What problems do these policies solve?

Shared equity homeownership helps to preserve the value of government homeownership subsidies in the face of rapidly rising home prices. When home prices increase much faster than incomes, homes that were initially made affordable through substantial government investment may become unaffordable to the next purchaser, even if the first beneficiary returns the government’s investment in full upon sale.

This problem is less acute when the public subsidy is small – say $2,000 or $5,000 – but becomes more serious as the subsidy increases. In some parts of the country, it is not uncommon for homeownership subsidies to exceed $25,000 per unit. In parts of California, for example, deep homeownership subsidies may exceed $100,000 or even $200,000.

Shared equity homeownership helps to preserve the affordability of units made available through inclusionary zoning or other programs that incentivize or mandate affordability. Many inclusionary zoning programs require the below-market homes to remain affordable for some defined period of time, such as 20, 30, or 40 years. Whenever the term of affordability expires, however, time-limited resale restrictions ultimately allow the homes to be sold for full market value, eliminating the homes from the affordable stock and providing a large windfall to the beneficiary.

Finally, certain types of shared equity homeownership can help preserve or foster communities with a mix of incomes by ensuring that some number of homes in “hot” neighborhoods always remain affordable.

Where are these policies most applicable?

Shared equity approaches are most effective in (a) markets in which home prices are rising faster than incomes, or are expected to do so, and (b) gentrifying neighborhoods where the community seeks to preserve homeownership opportunities for families with a mix of incomes.

Solutions in Action

City’s Edge Condominiums, South Burlington VT — photo courtesy of the Champlain Housing Trust

City’s Edge condominiums is a 60-unit building that includes 31 homeownership units made permanently affordable through use of a shared appreciation model. The building was developed by the Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) in Burlington, Vermont.

Families that buy a home through CHT receive downpayment assistance to reduce the cost of purchasing a home. In return, the family agrees to sell the home for an affordable price to CHT or a qualifying buyer. The affordable price allows the original purchaser to recover their initial investment plus 25 percent of any home price appreciation. The remaining appreciation is used to keep the home affordable to the next buyer.

An evaluation of this model found that CHT successfully preserves long-term affordability while providing home purchasers with an annualized return of 17 percent on their initial investment. Some 70 percent of families that resold homes originally purchased through the Trust went on to purchase market-rate homes.

Learn more about shared equity strategies

Go back to learn about other policies that help preserve and recycle resources for affordable homes

This section draws heavily on the experience and work produced by Rick Jacobus of Burlington Associates, including the paper Preservation of Affordable Homeownership, A Continuum of Strategies [PDF], co-authored with Jeffrey Lubell, Center for Housing Policy.

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