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Notre Dame gives land for affordable housing as home prices near campus soar

An aerial view of four lots on Turnock Street, in South Bend's Northeast Neighborhood, that the University of Notre Dame has donated for affordable housing.
An aerial view of four lots on Turnock Street, in South Bend's Northeast Neighborhood, that the University of Notre Dame has donated for affordable housing.

A single mother recently bought a newly built home on St. Louis Boulevard near the Notre Dame campus for just $105,000, a home that appraised at $500,000. The house next door had recently sold for $700,000.

The buyer wasn’t university faculty or staff, who’ve been building new homes on university-owned land in South Bend’s Northeast Neighborhood since Notre Dame launched its Notre Dame Avenue Housing Program in 2001. More on that in a minute.

Rather, the lucky buyer was an income-eligible client of the nonprofit South Bend Heritage Foundation, and they’ve benefitted from Indiana’s first community land trust for affordable housing.

More of that is coming to the neighborhood. On Tuesday the university announced it was donating four lots on Turnock Street, a block away from that St. Louis Boulevard home, to the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization.

Here’s how land trusts work.

A person buys a house that sits on land owned by the trust. The price is affordable because they’re only buying the house, and they’re leasing the land, typically for 99 years. If the homeowner ever sells the house, they agree to sell at a restricted price to keep it affordable in the future.

Gwen O’Brien is the university’s community relations director. She also sits on the NNRO’s board.

O’Brien says access to affordable housing is threatened throughout the city and nation as home prices have risen sharply in recent years.

Of course, the neighborhood bears little resemblance to how it looked in the early 2000s before the Notre Dame Avenue Housing Program. A recently built home at the corner of Notre Dame and South Bend avenues was listed Wednesday for $1.6 million.

A reporter asked O’Brien if the university has any regrets about how the program has pushed up home values in the neighborhood, or was it inevitable with new construction so close to campus?

"I think that everyone's been surprised how fast the land value has gone up, or the rate at which it has, but we're always looking for creative ways in order to make things easier and more affordable for everyone to participate in what's happening there," O'Brien said.

The university also last year donated four lots on Turnock to Habitat for Humanity.

Marco Mariani is executive director of South Bend Heritage Foundation, which partnered with the NNRO to build the first land trust home on St. Louis. Mariani says he’s excited that more low- and moderate-income families will have a chance to live in the neighborhood.

"It has all the things you want to see in a neighborhood," Mariani said. "It's a shared neighborhood. There's students there, there's older people, there's younger people, there's houses that have been in the neighborhood for a long time. There's great shopping. It's close to downtown. It's just the kind of neighborhood you want to see everywhere."

Notre Dame actually had previously bought the Turnock Street lots from the NNRO for the faculty and staff housing program. O’Brien says the university has no more lots in the neighborhood to donate.

Mariani says this year and next year, South Bend Heritage plans to build five land trust homes on the Turnock Street lots: a single-family bungalow and two townhomes, each containing two units.

The land under a land trust home is exempt from property taxes but homeowners still have to pay tax on the house. Property taxes in the northeast neighborhood have skyrocketed along with the land values.

Mariani has been working with two Democratic South Bend legislators, Rep. Maureen Bauer and Sen. David Niezgodski, on a bill that would make property taxes lower on land trust homes. The bill has stalled in this short session of the General Assembly, but Mariani feels good about its chances for passage next year.

"There's sort of a statewide alliance behind this legislation, with the Kepper Institute, Prosperity Indiana, and other community land trust efforts like in the city of Bloomington."

While they’re new to Indiana, there are about 250 affordable housing community land trusts nationally.

"I think this year will be a year of really working with our local elected officials and informing them about the land trusts, and helping them understand what we're actually doing," Mariani said. "And then hopefully in 2025 we can actually get some action taken on approving the legislation."


Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).