Little-Used Community Land Trust Model for Affordable Housing May See Big Boost

A new $8 million bank settlement from Attorney General Letitia James is also being parceled out this spring to land trust projects across the state.

Little-Used Community Land Trust Model for Affordable Housing May See Big Boost

By Emma Whitford (Gotham Gazette)

Manhattan City Council Member Carlina Rivera is part of a growing coalition of Council members pushing for city government’s first major commitment to a seldom-utilized affordable housing model. In the face of rapid gentrification, they say, the city should invest $850,000 in Community Land Trusts, or CLTs, in the city budget currently being negotiated.

Doing so could help advocates and nonprofits acquire land to operate deeply affordable housing and amenities — albeit on a small scale — in perpetuity.

“They’re not a silver bullet but should be a major component of any affordable housing plan,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. Other allies include Queens Council Member Donovan Richards and Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin.

A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit that acquires and manages land, either one continuous plot or scattered sites. People who live and work on the land collectively set the terms of use, and can mix residential and commercial space with community centers and gardens. Most CLTs prohibit their properties from ever being sold for profit, ensuring affordability in the long term.

There are currently 11 community-based organizations with CLT projects underway across the five boroughs. Though several are still in early planning stages, groups hope to ultimately control thousands of housing units and hundreds of small businesses citywide.

A new $8 million bank settlement from Attorney General Letitia James is also being parceled out this spring to land trust projects across the state. Municipalities can apply for up to $2.5 million each. “The interest in CLTs has expanded a lot,” said Elizabeth Zeldin, director of Enterprise Community Partners, which is distributing the funds.

New York City’s oldest CLT model, the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, is in Council Member Rivera’s district. It has grown to nearly 400 apartments and 20 small businesses since its formation in 1994 (including one of Rivera’s personal favorites, Pageant Print Shop, which sells antique prints and maps). “I think we have to plant seeds for these CLTs to grow,” she said. “They can ward off mass speculation of developers, like happened in Cooper Square.”

With citywide elections on the horizon in 2021, “Every front-runner in every office race should be discussing this as part of their affordable housing platform,” Rivera said.

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