A Simple, Powerful Premise

20th Anniv. Workshop Series participants delve into CLTs & the new economy


Posted by Juleon Robinson

Expensive. Unsustainable. Exploitative. This is how community organizers and advocates described the NYC housing market, at “Community Land Trusts: Organizing for Community Control,” the final installment of our 20th Anniversary Workshop Series. The workshop built on themes explored in the previous four sessions – from new economy organizing to shareholder action and community-led research – as participants delved into the potential of community land trusts, or CLTs, to address root causes of homelessness and displacement in NYC.

The simple, but powerful, premise that guides the CLT movement is that housing is a human right. But in a city like New York, where we face an ever-mounting housing crisis, record rates of homelessness, and skyrocketing rents, the concept of housing as a human right can seem as foreign as deep dish pizza.

The City’s market-based response to the affordable housing crisis – continuing to subsidize private development – does not provide truly affordable, long-term solutions for the lowest income New Yorkers.  Although the Mayor’s “Housing New York” plan has reportedly created or preserved 43,515 affordable housing units, only 2,335 of these are affordable to those with extremely low incomes – the 28% of New Yorkers with an annual income below $24,500.

CLTs offer a fundamentally different model for affordable housing, one that can create deep and permanent affordability.

Spurred on by the urgency of the crisis, workshop participants quickly covered the basics of the CLT model and dove into a discussion of implementation and strategy in the real estate capital of the world. Organizers of CLT efforts in East Harlem and Far Rockaway joined us to share their work. Their presentations illustrated the potential for CLTs to fit a range of community needs, as well as the challenges inherent in advancing a new vision of housing. Especially in a locale that treats land as its most precious – and expensive – commodity, there is much work to be done to establish CLTs as a city-wide framework.

Clear-eyed about the considerable challenge of taking on NYC’s entrenched real estate interests, workshop participants passionately discussed the need for work on CLTs at every level, from door- to- door organizing to citywide advocacy. Representing an incredible cross-section of organizers and advocates – from diverse communities and movements in all five boroughs – workshop participants exemplified the depth and breadth of knowledge needed to push for this structural change.

Throughout our 20th Anniversary Workshop Series, we explored interrelated strategies for building a just economy in NYC neighborhoods and beyond. Drawing upon the bonds built across all five workshops, the power, motivation, and sense of urgency were palpable – not merely to reform the systems currently in place, but to build something new, together, and for us all.