Opinion: James Watson’s inspiring story highlights the power of affordable homeownership.

USA, North Carolina, Raleigh, city skyline, late afternoon. Photo: Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

By Kevin Campbell

May 2, 2024

At 62, James Watson, a Raleigh native and Army veteran, achieved a lifelong dream: finally owning a home.

In the heart of Southeast Raleigh, Watson’s story resonates with many hard-working Americans striving for residential stability. Despite working for years as a maintenance supervisor and juggling odd jobs, the prospect of homeownership remained elusive.

While navigating the challenges of a soaring housing market, Watson found an opportunity in 2023 with Raleigh Area Land Trust (RALT). Our nonprofit’s shared equity model offered him the opportunity to purchase a traditional ranch house on Southgate Drive for just under $200,000 — below market value. His mortgage is around $850 a month.

For Watson, who became RALT’s first homeowner, this home represents more than mere bricks and mortar—it epitomizes stability and personal triumph. Since moving in, Watson has not only decorated it with photographs of his loved ones and friends but he also used his carpentry skills to build a deck and sitting area in his backyard. This space now serves as a gathering spot for neighbors, fostering a sense of community pride and connection.

Watson’s journey highlights the profound impact of community land trusts in preserving affordability and fostering community ownership. Through RALT’s initiative, Watson was able to establish permanent roots in the same community that he grew up in and remains deeply connected.

“This has been a dream come true for me,” shares Watson. “Thanks to RALT, I now have a place to call my own, which allows me to leave a legacy for my family. It’s a surreal feeling after renting for 30 years, and I’m so proud of myself.”

While the pandemic has thrust affordable housing into the national spotlight, it’s been a local concern for much longer. The community land trust model was pioneered in the 1970s amid rising housing costs. In it, the community retains ownership of the land and the resident owns the home.

The model is designed to provide affordable homeownership opportunities to individuals and families earning between 50-80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for Wake County. Through down-payment assistance and permanent land ownership by the trust, Watson secured his home below market value, with manageable monthly mortgage payments.

As RALT’s Executive Director, our goal is to stand in the gap. We want to protect North Carolina neighborhoods from gentrification by empowering low-income workers like James Watson to achieve homeownership while preserving community roots. With plans to scale up operations and provide 100 affordable homes over the next five years, we hope to make a meaningful impact on housing accessibility.

In Raleigh, Watson’s success story serves as both inspiration and “proof of concept” for our trust’s mission to create lasting change in the lives of individuals and families across the region. Together, we stand with James Watson and countless others like him in advocating for policies and initiatives that make affordable housing a reality for all.


  • Kevin Campbell

    Kevin Campbell is committed to transforming lives through affordable homeownership. As the Executive Director of the Raleigh Area Land Trust, Kevin is helping to shape the housing landscape in Wake County.



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