City Council Introduces Series of New Bills Aimed at Improving Access for Nonprofits to Buy Affordable Housing
Dressed in bright yellow t-shirts and carrying signs that read “our land, our homes, controlled by us” and “public land for the public good”, several dozen members of New York City’s Community Land Trusts (CLTs) marched staged a rally at City Hall on April 14. They were pushing for Mayor Eric Adams and the New York City Council to add $3 million for CLTs to the city budget for fiscal year 2023. They were joined by elected officials, including City Council members Carlina Rivera, Tiffany Caban, Sandy Nurse and Carmen De La Rosa, as well as controller Brad Lander.
“A lot of our neighborhoods are being swallowed up by these LLCs and corporations,” council member Sandy Nurse said at the rally. “It’s a tool we have and a tool we need and we need to fund it,” she said.
Hannah Anousheh is the only person on staff at East New York CLT, which was trained in the early months of the pandemic, when the recession was increasing foreclosures in the neighborhood. “As we like to say, we were born on fire,” Anousheh told Next City.
The community land trust model keeps land ownership in the hands of a non-profit organization. The non-profit organization typically enters into a 99-year ground lease with residents, who then join a council where they have a say in CLT rules, such as admission criteria, maintenance fees and resale values. Residents can also build capital while paying the ground lease, but this capital is limited because the resale value of the home is usually capped to keep it affordable for the next resident.
Anousheh says each of the city’s CLTs received about $98,000 in fiscal year 2022. That was not enough to hire several staff members while covering other administrative costs. That’s why last Thursday’s rally calling on the city to double its CLT funding highlighted representation from four of the city’s five boroughs, including the East Harlem El Barrio CLT and the Cooper Square CLT, the city’s first. .
They also include Western Queens CLT, which seeks to reclaim a building originally planned to become Amazon’s headquarters in Long Island City. The Department of Education-owned building could be a hub for local businesses, manufacturing jobs and low-cost artist spaces, say members of the Western Queens CLT. Rally attendees also included the Bronx CLT, an offshoot of the nonprofit Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC). East Bronx CLT work to get the vacant Kingsbridge Armory, among other spaces.
“CLT’s efforts are actually the result of tenant organizing efforts to make sure we’re not just fighting back, we’re thinking of ways to take control of the buildings,” said Edward Garcia, a NWBCCC Community Organizer, Next City.
Anousheh says the Eastern New York CLT has yet to acquire land but has been involved in actions to acquire more properties for the land trust, including the Cancel the Tax Lien Sale campaign, which has pushed to the acquisition of tax-delinquent properties by non-profit organizations. . (While legislation allowing the sale of the city’s tax lien for another four years has not been renewedAdams did not commit to transferring indebted properties into land trusts, as East New York CLT wanted.) With additional funding, Anousheh says they could hire more administrative staff, including a director of the organization and a director of operations, to interest more neighbors. CLT.
“In order for each CLT group to independently hire a staff member, we need that,” she told Next City. “It’s on par with other organizing coalitions.”
Carmen De La Rosa is a council member representing District 10, which covers Marble Hill, Washington Heights and Inwood in Upper Manhattan. She told Next City that many longtime members of her district’s predominantly Latino community are hungry for solutions that will stabilize their neighborhoods, which face continued displacement risks. She says the risk has been heightened by controversy rezoning 2018 of Inwood, one of nine city neighborhoods that had been rezoned during Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty. This rezoning was intended to increase housing production by allowing developers to build taller apartments 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 these types of neighborhood-wide rezoning did not produce as high a ratio of affordable units as non-rezoned neighborhoods.
“One of the things that seems really palpable to me is the lack of affordability, especially when rezonings come into play,” De La Rosa told Next City. “So I support the community land trust model because I believe we are returning ownership to our communities.”
While there is sometimes skepticism about community land trusts from communities that have been cut off 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 pronounced in my district are conversations about displacement and gentrification, and not necessarily the conversation about generational wealth creation,” says De La Rosa. “Most people in our community are heavily burdened with rent and can’t even think beyond their homes. They can’t even afford the apartments they live in.
The rally took place on the same day that council member Carlina Rivera presented legislation intended to support community land trusts. Among those bills was the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, citywide legislation that would alert nonprofits when buildings were being sold and give them the first opportunity to purchase them. Another bill would exempt CLTs from having to advertise on the city’s affordable housing portal, a mandate that has been criticized as costly and burdensome. Because of a 2018 straightunits that are not registered on the Housing Portal within 18 months are subject to fines of $2,000 per month.
“Local Law 64 has imposed a ‘one size fits all’ admissions process that is costly, punitive and incompatible with CLTs,” Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association director Dave Powell said in a statement supporting the Rivera’s bills.
Last year, the city’s CLTs asked for $1.5 million to be added to the fiscal year 2022 budget, which they has received. While $3 million would allow the city’s CLTs to significantly increase their staff, that money would not be set aside to acquire new properties. Advocates hope to increase their demands in future budgets. Councilman Charles Barron, whose district covers eastern New York, said at Thursday’s rally the real demand should be $1 billion, to laughter and agreement.
“I think we should at least start with $10 million. After getting the $10 million, then the billion dollars. And we can do that because there’s a municipal budget of $104 billion, a state budget of $220 billion,” Barron said. “Damn, you can give us a billion dollars.”
Roshan Abraham is Next City’s housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities Fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.