Coalition Calls on City Council and Mayor to Expand Permanently-Affordable Housing and Community-Led Development, through Community Land Trusts

NEW YORK, NY – Community and housing activists joined Council Member Carlina Rivera and Council Member Sandy Nurse, Comptroller Brad Lander, and other elected officials at a rally at City Hall to call for increased support for community land trusts (CLTs), to shield land and housing from speculation in the wake of the pandemic. Groups called for strong public investment in CLTs and policymaking to stabilize housing and promote a just recovery in Black and brown neighborhoods hardest-hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

The coalition called for enhanced funding of $3 million in New York City’s budget for the Citywide CLT Initiative. Launched three years ago, the initiative funds CLT organizing and technical assistance and has helped catalyze more than a dozen new CLTs across the five boroughs, from the South and Northwest Bronx to East Harlem, Richmond Hill, Brownsville, and East New York. Renewed funding will support 16 neighborhood-based CLTs, including new efforts in Edgemere, Queens, and East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and four citywide organizations providing training, legal support and other technical assistance.

Groups also urged the City Council to pass the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), introduced at today’s stated meeting, to help CLTs take land and housing out of the speculative market. COPA would give CLTs and other qualified nonprofits a first right to purchase multifamily buildings when landlords sell. Coupled with funding for purchases, COPA would give CLTs a powerful tool to disrupt property flipping and evictions and bring more housing into tenant and community control.

CLTs are community-governed nonprofits that own land and ensure that it is used for permanently-affordable housing and other community needs. At the rally, CLTs spoke about their collective work organizing tenants, small businesses, and homeowners at risk of eviction and foreclosure; developing and preserving deeply-affordable housing in East Harlem and the Lower East Side; and completing community-driven plans to convert vacant and underused property to community, health and arts facilities, retail storefronts, and other uses.
During the rally, speakers representing the NYC Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI) coalition called on Mayor Eric Adams and NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams to pass a slate of policies to strengthen CLTs that shield land and housing from predatory development. In addition to funding CLTs and passing COPA, groups called on the City to restrict the transfer or sale of public land to CLTs and other nonprofits that commit to permanently-affordable housing and community-led development; and to permanently abolish the city’s tax lien sale.
CLTs have been leading the campaign to stop NYC from selling New Yorkers’ property tax debt to private investors – a Giuliani-era policy that has extracted wealth from Black and brown communities – and to collaborate with CLTs to convert distressed property to permanently-affordable housing.

“Beyond the buildings, lots, and land, Community Land Trusts are about the people they serve, and the exponential growth we have seen since we first secured this City Council initiative is indicative of the power of investing in community,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera. “New York City’s affordability crisis predates the pandemic, and we need the full strength of every tool at our disposal to bring permanently-affordable housing and community-led development to predominantly Black, brown, and immigrant neighborhoods citywide. I am proud to stand with New York City’s growing network of Community Land Trusts, colleagues, and advocates in calling for full funding of the Citywide Community Land Trust Initiative at $3 million in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.”

“Community land trusts are a time-tested and effective model that brings housing and land into democratic, community control,” said Council Member Sandy Nurse. “Investing in CLTs will better equip our communities to prevent displacement, preserve and grow deeply affordable and social housing, and preserve green spaces in environmental justice communities, like mine. I am proud to stand with our City’s dynamic community land trust network, Council Member Rivera, and my colleagues in the Council in calling for full funding of the Citywide Community Land Trust Initiative at $3 million in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.”

“Community Land Trusts are an essential tool for pushing back against the speculative forces turning housing from homes into financial assets, said New York City Comptroller Brad Lander. But for CLTs to succeed in protecting our affordable housing stock against speculation, we need to lay the groundwork and provide the resources they need. Two important steps the City can take are first providing the funding needed to expand community land ownership in Black and brown neighborhoods and, second, making sure that all city-owned land disposed for housing is used for social housing.”

“As a staunch longtime advocate for the creation and expansion of Community Land Trusts, I have seen first-hand the game-changing impacts CLTs can have on neighborhoods by stemming the tide of displacement, preventing land speculation and keeping community land in the very hands of those who call that area home,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “From creating homeownership opportunities to establishing public open space, there are few investments in the future of New York City more important than growing our network of CLTs. This effort is one my office is working wholeheartedly toward and I encourage all our elected officials and community leaders to join in this push.”

“In New York City, most City-owned land is transferred to for-profit developers to become luxury high rises while rents outpaced working families’ ability to pay. If we want to stop gentrification, our Council must keep public land in the public hands,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif. “I’m proud to support the New Economy Project and the New York City Community Land Initiative’s push to bring community land trusts (CLT) to our City. Together, we can ensure public land is used for smart, community led, affordable housing projects accessible to all New Yorkers.”

“Community land trusts are a critical tool to ensure long-term community ownership and control, and provide long-term stability of housing,” said Council Member Pierina Sanchez. “Community stewardship of land could stabilize communities from years of disinvestment and displacement of Black and Brown communities. Mission-driven nonprofits, tenants and community members should be the first entities considered in any future disposition. Yet, to shore up community land trusts, more investment is needed. This is why I join colleagues and advocates calling on the mayoral administration to fully fund the citywide CLT initiative. We need new and bold ways to preserve and expand housing for frontline communities.”

“The economic value of New York City’s land is astronomical,” said Council Member Tiffany Caban. “Given the choice between, on the one hand, letting billionaire landlords, international oligarchs, and large-scale developers own and control it, and, on the other, enabling communities and the public to take it off the market and manage it democratically, I believe it’s a no-brainer. For economic, racial and environmental justice, and in the interest of public health and public safety, we must support our city’s existing Community Land Trusts, help them to grow, and foster new ones.”

“With its roots in the civil rights movement, the Community Land Trust model is an effective and proven tool for stopping displacement and providing more community control over land use,” said Council Member Carmen De La Rosa. “As communities like Northern Manhattan are targeted for development, we need to use every tool in our toolbox to defend our neighborhoods. Along with my colleagues in the City Council and the community advocates, I call for a city budget that includes $3 million for the Citywide Community Land Trust (CLT) Initiative. Now is the moment to reimagine how land-use decisions are made and put people at the center of policy-making.”

“New York City must take action to create permanently affordable housing, community control of land, and a pathway toward just recovery,” said Will Spisak, Senior Program Associate at New Economy Project, which coordinates the citywide CLT initiative. “Increased funding for CLTs and passage of COPA and other legislative priorities will give community groups and residents in Black, brown, and immigrant neighborhoods new tools to keep people in their homes, combat speculation, and collectively ensure the long-term stability of their neighborhoods.”

“Even as the city opens up, we know that it will take us a long time to understand the ongoing, devastating impact of the pandemic,” said Athena Bernkopf, Project Director, East Harlem/El Barrio Community Land Trust. “We do know, however, that the city’s housing system has failed to keep people housed and cared for, even before COVID-19 ripped through all of our communities. Instead of going back to normal, CLTs are working to build out infrastructure for community-owned land and housing that allows for livable futures defined by the well-being of all community members. More than preventing evictions and displacement, CLTs are building out collective capacity for sustaining our land and buildings, activating networks of care in times of crisis, and deepening practices for participatory community planning that meets real community needs. Ongoing and expanded funding is necessary to ensure this work improves the health and safety of our communities now, and for future generations.”

“Community Land Trusts are an essential and powerful tool to address the root causes of displacement and homelessness, while stabilizing New York City neighborhoods,” said Jessica Clemente, Chief Executive Officer, We Stay/Nos Quedamos. “We Stay/ Nos Quedamos’ CLT—the South Bronx Community Resource and Land Trust—is intended to not only preserve affordable housing but also protect accessibility to community open space as an equal part of the balance in creating viable, long-term sustainable communities. Further, the model considers some broader approaches to land use management and local economic development opportunities that would uniquely position our communities around people-led ownership of locally driven utilities (solar energy) and communications networks (local mesh broadband) that will be utilized to develop effective strategies to confront issues relating to environmental resilience, including the ability to address related supplemental municipal infrastructure concerns.”

“As the oldest functioning Community Land Trust in New York City, the Cooper Square CLT is home to 328 low and moderate income households and 24 small businesses in Manhattan’s Lower East Side,” said Tom Angotti, President, the Cooper Square Community Land Trust. “Because the CLT keeps land off the private market people can stay in their homes even while gentrification cuts through their neighborhood. Now more than ever the City must align its budget with community needs and values. New York City spends five times more on policing and incarcerating our neighbors than we do on housing them. If we want to sustain the long-term viability of our communities, the Mayor and City Council must fully fund Community Land Trusts and other non-speculative, community controlled housing initiatives to build a more just and equitable city.”

“Community land trusts are a means of protecting public and private investments in affordable housing, and of putting the future of New York City in the hands of the residents who have made it valuable,” said Paula Z. Segal, Senior Staff Attorney at TakeRoot Justice. “Support for organizing and technical assistance is crucial to their success. We thank the City Council for their partnership in creating and continuing to support the CLT Initiative.”

“NYC’s Chinatown is faced with many housing problems such as having one of the lowest home ownership rates in the city and lack of affordable housing yet the area is also dealing with an oversupply of hotels,” said Jacky Wong, Co-Coordinator of Chinatown CLT. “Chinatown CLT aims to explore and find solutions to tackle these issues and maintain Chinatown as a residential working-class neighborhood. City Council funding will not only enable us to engage in peer learning, develop shared resources, and advocate for policies that limit land speculation, increase community control and stabilize neighborhoods, but also help to preserve one of the oldest ethnic enclaves in the United States.”

“Passing the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) is a crucial step to advance community control and ownership, dramatically expanding the supply of community-based affordable housing and preserving the cultural fabric of NYC neighborhoods,” said Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, Interim Executive Director, Hester Street. “Hester Street urges the City Council to use this unique opportunity to fund training and technical assistance for community land trusts as a vital tool to stem the tide of displacement and ensure affordability and long-term sustainability for all New Yorkers.”

“It’s no secret that East New York is a community with one of the highest risks of displacement,” said Boris Santos, Treasurer of East New York Community Land Trust. “This has even been substantiated by the City’s newly published Equitable Development Data Explorer. Community Land Trusts are a vital tool to fight the real estate market speculation that causes displacement. The East New York Community Land Trust formed in order to fight this threat of displacement. Simply put, we are on a mission to help make our neighborhood permanently affordable. The Community Land Trust Initiative has been key to supporting our mission. In fact, the funds from this Initiative helped us gain our start. We therefore urge this ‘more progressive’ NYC Council to renew and expand funding for CLTs so we can continue our mission. This falls in line with what many of y’all campaigned on.”

“To bring land under community control and off the speculative market, we will need City Council funding for community planning, educating, and organizing,” said Martha Hennessy, Member of This Land Is Ours CLT. “And we will need legislation to fund the acquisition and redevelopment of such public properties. We need the City to pass the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) and the State to pass TOPA. And the City and State must prioritize disposition of public properties to Community Land Trusts so the housing will remain affordable in perpetuity.”

“Community Land Trusts are a proven tool, across the U.S., for protecting poor and working class neighborhoods and communities of color from real estate speculation and displacement,” said Hillary Caldwell, Assistant Director of Community Change Studies at City College, which provides training and organizing support to CLTs. “New York City needs CLTs now more than ever as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. City Council’s ongoing and increased support for the local CLT movement is critical.”

“As we recover from this pandemic, if we want to re(build) a more equitable city, where small businesses thrive and homes are sustainable and affordable, we must utilize Community Land Trusts,” said Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director, Chhaya Community Development Corporation. “Land is one of the most precious resources and its value belongs to every New Yorker, not only the rich.”