NYC fights for more Community Land Trust funding

The city council is introducing a series of new bills designed to improve access for nonprofit organizations to purchase affordable housing

Dressed in bright yellow T-shirts and holding signs reading “our land, our homes, controlled by us” and “public lands for the common good,” several dozen members of New York City’s Community Land Trusts (CLTs) held a rally City Hall on April 14th. They pushed for Mayor Eric Adams and the NYC City Council to add $3 million to the city budget for fiscal year 2023 for CLTs. They were joined by elected officials, including City Council members Carlina Rivera, Tiffany Caban, Sandy Nurse and Carmen De La Rosa, and Comptroller Brad Lander.

“A lot of our neighborhoods are being gobbled up by these private equity-backed LLCs and corporations,” Councilor Sandy Nurse said at the rally. “This is a tool that we have and a tool that we need and that we need to fund,” she said.

Hannah Anousheh is the sole employee of East New York CLT, which was formed in the early months of the pandemic as the recession intensified neighborhood foreclosures. “As we like to say, we were born of fire,” Anousheh told Next City.

The Community Land Trust model holds ownership of land in the hands of a not-for-profit organization. The nonprofit organization typically enters into a 99-year leasehold agreement with residents, who then join a panel where they have a say in the CLT’s rules, such as eligibility criteria, maintenance fees and resale values. Residents can also build equity while paying the ground rent, but that equity is limited as the resale value of the home is usually limited to keep it affordable for the next resident.

Anousheh says each of the city’s CLTs received around $98,000 in fiscal 2022. That was not enough to hire several employees while covering other administrative costs. That’s why last Thursday’s rally calling for the city to double its CLT funding produced representatives from four of the city’s five boroughs, including the East Harlem El Barrio CLT and the Cooper Square CLT, the first of the City.

That includes Western Queens CLT, which is on the hunt repossess a building originally planned as Amazon’s headquarters in Long Island City. Owned by the Department of Education, the building could be a hub for local businesses, manufacturing jobs and low-cost artist spaces, Western Queens CLT members argue. Also taking part in the rally was the Bronx CLT, an offshoot of the non-profit Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC). Bronx CLT is work to acquire the vacant Kingsbridge Armory, among others.

“The CLT effort actually stems from tenant organizing efforts to make sure we’re not just fighting back, but thinking about how we can take control of buildings,” Edward Garcia, a community organizer at NWBCCC, told Next City .

Anousheh says the East New York CLT has not yet acquired any land, but has been involved in actions aimed at acquiring more land for the Land Trust, including the Cancel the Tax Lien Sale campaign, which urged tax-defaulters Plots of land can be purchased from non-profit organizations. (While the legislature authorizes the city’s tax lien sale for another four years was not renewedAdams hasn’t committed to turning indebted properties into land trusts, like East New York CLT had wanted.) With additional funding, Anousheh said they could hire more administrative staff, including an organizing manager and an operations manager, to get more neighbors interested in cross-laminated lumber.

“For each CLT group to independently hire an employee, we need that,” she told Next City. “It’s comparable to other organizing coalitions.”

Carmen De La Rosa is a council member representing District 10, which includes Marble Hill, Washington Heights and Inwood in Upper Manhattan. She told Next City that many of the mostly Hispanic, longtime community members in her district are hungry for solutions that will stabilize their neighborhoods, which face an ongoing risk of displacement. She says the risk was heightened by a controversial issue 2018 rededication of Inwood, one of nine neighborhoods citywide that had been rededicated during Bill de Blasio’s mayorship. This rezoning was intended to increase housing production by allowing developers to build taller housing in exchange for a mandate that 25% of all units remain affordable. But one report of the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development found that this type of neighborhood-wide rezoning did not produce as high a ratio of affordable units as neighborhoods without rezoning.

“One of the things that really strikes me is the lack of affordability, especially when reallocations come into play,” De La Rosa told Next City. “That’s why I support the Community Land Trust model, because I believe we’re giving property back to our communities.”

While there is sometimes skepticism about community land trusts from communities that have been excluded from formal means of wealth creation like home ownership, De La Rosa says people in her community are more focused on the short-term project of stabilizing their neighborhoods.

“The conversations that are more prominent in my district are conversations about displacement and gentrification and not necessarily the conversation about building wealth through generations,” says De La Rosa. “Most people in our community are heavily rent-burdened and can’t even think beyond their home. They can’t even afford the apartments they live in.”

The rally took place on the same day that Council Member Carlina Rivera introduced it legislation in support of community land trusts. Among those bills was the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, citywide legislation that warns nonprofits when buildings are being sold and gives them the first opportunity to buy them. Another bill would exempt CLTs from the obligation to advertise on the city’s affordable housing portal, a mandate that has been criticized as costly and burdensome. Due to a 2018 LawUnits that fail to register with the housing site within 18 months are subject to a $2,000 per month fine.

“Local Law 64 introduced a uniform approval process that is expensive, punitive and inconsistent with CLTs,” said Dave Powell, the director of the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, in a statement supporting Rivera’s bills.

Last year, the city’s CLTs asked for $1.5 million to add to the fiscal 2022 budget, which they receive. While $3 million would allow the city’s CLTs to significantly increase their headcount, that money would not be allocated for new real estate acquisitions. Proponents hope to increase their demands in future budgets. Councilor Charles Barron, whose district covers East New York, said at Thursday’s rally that the real demand should be $1 billion to chuckle and agree.

“I think we should start with at least $10 million. After we get the $10 million, then the $1 billion. And we can do it because there’s a $104 billion city budget and a $220 billion state budget,” Barron said. “Damn, you can give us a billion dollars.”

Roshan Abraham is Next City’s housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities grantee. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

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