Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Can Community Land Trusts revive communities?

Every time anybody tries to put some life into some dis-invested and dilapidated part of town that hasn't seen a new building go up in decades (unfortunately we have too much of those) concerned voices start intoning the word "gentrification". This is also the reason why there is so much confusion about Community Land Trusts (CLT).
Dis-invested areas in Baltimore (AP photo, the Nation 10/2/15)

Here the definition  of gentrification by Merriam Webster:
Gentrification - the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents 
Displacement is a problem in many places and sometimes even in Baltimore, but it isn't a problem in the vast parts of our city where the vacant homes and lots exceed the 30% mark, in the food deserts and in the areas where so few people remain to live that schools have to be closed. The problem in those places is not investment that makes it too expensive to stay for those who have lived there for decades. The problem is the absence of investment. In response incentives are needed to create investment, demand and a bigger economic diversity.

Gentrification occurs when there is so much investment and so much demand that a lack of supply drives up the prices and eventually displaces those who can't keep up with the rising rents or taxes. Only this problem requires a freeze on rents, homestead protections, co-ops for renters or community land trusts as vehicles to give low income people equity.

Here the definition of CLT provided by Urban Strategies:
A CLT is a nonprofit, community-based corporation committed to the stewardship and affordability of land housing and other buildings used for community benefit in perpetuity. • Most CLTs target their programs and resources toward charitable activities like redeveloping blighted neighborhoods, open space or providing housing for lower-income people. (Website)
Penn North Community leader
Annie Hall (Photo: ArchPlan Inc)
Can CLTs protect people from gentrification and revive dis-invested neighborhoods?
Advocates say land trusts are a way to bridge the gap between two parts of Baltimore's housing crisis — the struggles faced by the city's many rent-burdened or homeless families and the neighborhoods hurt by an abundance of vacant and foreclosed housing stock — without ceding control of communities to investors. (SUN)

The SUN's well researched Sunday article about community land trusts explains quite well why CLTs can't usually revive disinvested neighborhoods which explains why folks like Chris Ryer from the Southeast CDC in Highlandtown are skeptical about this model to be useful in the poor parts of Baltimore.

"I'm not sure it's the right fit for Baltimore," he said. "I hate to put a homeowner, especially a low- or moderate-income homeowner, in a situation where they can't capture the equity in their house that every other American does." (Chris Ryer, SUN)

The CLT approach works best if real estate appreciates, i.e. in "gentrification area"s. There it leverages the appreciation to write down the cost of home purchases and to keep existing owners protected.

The CLT model is not often as well explained as in the SUN article. The much respected "Nation" in its October 2 article about Baltimore and the CLT model is much foggier in its assessment, clinging to the narrative of the McElderry Parl land trust and its experience with the Amazing Grace garden, a lot which the Housing Department had once erroneously awarded as a disposition lot to a New Jersey developer
 ..residents are wondering why, with thousands of vacancies dotting Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods, so many people have nowhere to live. To resolve that paradox of unaffordability and underdevelopment, labor and community organizations have explored the land trust model as a bridge between Amazing Grace’s garden path and the boarded-up eyesores strafing surrounding blocks.(The Nation)
Amazing Grace Port Street garden

The SUN article for the mechanism of CLT and the Nation for the human interest envelope are both good pieces to read when it comes to figuring out how to solve Baltimore's housing problems.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore SUN article
The Nation article

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