Extreme Makeover: CLT Home Edition

Who doesn’t enjoy a room makeover contest with stunning results? The competition is even more gratifying when it serves a dual purpose: delighting a happy homeowner, and fostering awareness of the community land trust (CLT) housing model.

CLTs operate by selling homes—but not the land underneath them—to families with low or moderate incomes at a manageable price. If the buyers later decide to sell their house, the price is kept low enough to remain affordable to a new family of similar means.

The Chicago Community Land Trust (CCLT), which maintains the long-term affordability of 70 housing units constructed with City of Chicago subsidies, recently sponsored an “extreme room makeover” contest for its homeowners.

The competition also provides a creative, inexpensive way for the land trust to energize and engage with homeowners. “I’m a do-it-yourself junkie, and I love before and after photos,” says CCLT executive director Kara Breems, who organized the project. “A lot of our homeowners are new, young families, so I thought it would be a fun way to make a splash.”

The winner, Andrea Collins-Edwards of South Lawndale, hosted an open house to showcase her dramatically redesigned family room—complete with a mandarin and beige color scheme, reupholstered ottoman, refinished second-hand bureau, custom window coverings, and even a little doghouse sewn with complementary-colored fabrics and a feather pillow for Coco, the owner’s Yorkie. Total cost: just under $500.

Local designer Ray Trujillo, who is also a CCLT resident, volunteered his time for the project, along with his partner Heriberto Ruiz. “I think this is a very positive way to motivate people to enhance their space,” says Trujillo. “When a space is updated to the specifications of the client, they find a new sense of pride in their ownership.”

Indeed, Breems says an important goal of the project is to encourage homeowners to invest some of their time, money, and energy into rejuvenating and maintaining their properties. “We hope to inspire them to make their home a place they want to stay awhile, and for generations of additional families to later enjoy as well,” says Breems.

Tips for planning your own CLT room makeover contest:

1. Find a talented designer. Breems was lucky that Trujillo, a CCLT resident, is also a professional designer who was willing to donate his time to the project. If you’re not so fortunate, consider asking a local design school or professional design organization for a volunteer.

2. Keep the application simple and incentivize participation. Applicants had to submit a sketch of their floor plan, and a statement of their goals for the makeover. All 70 homeowner families were invited to the open house, and those who attended received gift cards.

3. Be tactical about choosing judges. To help raise the profile of CCLT within city hall, Breems invited the mayor’s deputy policy chief and an alderman to serve as judges. Local designer Ed Shephard of home furnishings company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, another judge, spoke to the homeowners about how to significantly improve the design of a room with a limited budget.

If you have further questions about how to organize a room makeover contest, contact Breems at: kara.breems@cityofchicago.org and write “makeover” in the subject line.

The makeover contest was funded by US Bank, with in-kind support from The Home Depot and CB2—a furniture and home decor store.

(Photos by Ray Trujillo. Top: After the living room makeover, with Collins-Edwards seated to the right of her mom. Middle: Before the makeover. Bottom: Coco’s new doghouse.)

Dana Hawkins-Simons directed NHI’s Opportunity Housing Initiative, a project that supported the expansion of long-term affordable housing programs and policies, from 2014 to 2015. She is an award-winning journalist and former senior editor of U.S. News & World Report.


  1. What a fun project! Kudos from all of us at National CLT Network to member Chicago Community Land Trust for a simply GREAT idea for resident and community engagement.


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