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Community Groups, Housing Activists, and Electeds Call on NYC to Take Bold Action to Tackle The Housing Crisis by Supporting Community Land Trusts


Julia Duranti-Martinez, 206-579-6369
Athena Bernkopf, 929-356-6402
Valerio Orselli, 917-509-5617


Groups urge City Council to fund Community Land Trusts in all five boroughs to ensure permanently-affordable housing and community-led development

NEW YORK, NY – Dozens of community land trust (CLT) organizers, supporters, and community members rallied this morning at City Hall, urging the NYC Council to support a new funding initiative to incubate and expand CLTs in all five NYC boroughs. The proposed initiative, championed by Council Members Donovan Richards and Carlina Rivera, comes at a critical moment, as more than a dozen CLTs are taking root in the South and Northwest Bronx, East Harlem, Brownsville, Jackson Heights, and beyond, to curb displacement and advance community-led development.

The City Council initiative would provide $850,000 in FY2020 discretionary funding to emerging CLTs working to develop and preserve deeply affordable housing — from mutual housing and limited-equity cooperatives to single-family homes at risk of foreclosure. Supporters underscored the ways in which CLTs give communities control over local development, even beyond housing, including over commercial and community spaces, gardens and green infrastructure, and other neighborhood assets.

CLTs are nonprofits that own and steward land in the community’s interest. They engage residents in decision-making about affordable housing and other neighborhood development. CLTs typically issue renewable 99-year ground leases that establish housing resale and rental restrictions, effectively taking land out of the speculative market and ensuring that housing remains affordable over the long term.

The citywide initiative, which also includes four technical assistance providers, would incubate or expand 11 CLTs, reaching thousands of New Yorkers through community education and organizing, community planning sessions, and training of CLT community and board members. CLT organizers stressed how CLTs are a much-needed vehicle for combating speculation and for ensuring permanent affordability of housing in neighborhoods plagued by speculation, gentrification and displacement.

More than a dozen CLTs are in formation across the City, led by grassroots groups in partnership with experienced nonprofit developers and other stakeholders. Cooper Square CLT already manages deeply affordable housing, while others are in the process of acquiring property. City officials have also embraced CLTs, passing enabling legislation in 2017 and helping to create training and other infrastructure for local CLTs. At the rally, supporters described how City Council funding would build on the momentum CLTs have been gaining in NYC in recent years, providing game-changing support directly to community groups working to organize and launch CLTs in their neighborhoods.

Supporters of the CLT Initiative made the following statements:

“When the Cooper Square CLT launched in my district in 1991 we started something truly special. I want that in every single corner of New York City. I want us to be the model for the nation,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera (Manhattan, District 2). “This is the most effective affordable housing model that we have seen in decades. That’s why I have been contacting the Speaker’s team every single day about this.”

“CLTs are a proven model that works for communities. We have an opportunity to expand this model into communities like the Rockaways, where the City has left acres of land abandoned for years. We should not turn that land over to speculators and banks and private developers. It needs to go into the hands of nonprofits and community stakeholders, so that we can preserve affordability,” said Council Member Donovan J. Richards (Queens, District 31). “This is our highest priority today. We have to ensure that what we are doing right now in this city is going to benefit the people who stayed in these communities when no one wanted to be there, when no one wanted to invest, when no one cared.”

“We want power to be in the hands of people who fought for decades to turn around these communities, and who should be able to stay there in perpetuity,” said Council Member Mark Levine (Manhattan, District 7). “When you put the power of ownership in the hands of residents, you guarantee continuity in communities, you stop displacement, you stop gentrification, and you build economic power in the hands of working class people.”

“The Community Land Trusts Initiative is incredibly important for our city and its residents,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6). “CLTs are part of a growing landscape of institutions — including worker-owned businesses — that are working to advance democratic economic development that benefits all New Yorkers. I applaud the work done by groups in this initiative.

“As East Harlem and low-income neighborhoods across the city are targeted by developers, community members continue to live under threat of violent displacement,” said Athena Bernkopf, Project Coordinator of East Harlem El Barrio CLT. “We must develop tools and practices to meet the real housing, commercial, and cultural needs of our communities. Community land trusts present opportunities not only to stabilize land and ensure truly affordable housing, but also for communities to envision and shape development for themselves — building strong neighborhoods from the ground up.”

“Over the long-term, the initiative will support creation and preservation of thousands of units of permanently affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers,” said Julia Duranti-Martinez, CLT Coordinator at New Economy Project, which supports local CLTs through training and coalition-building. “Community land trusts are part of a broader movement for cooperative and community-led development, including worker and financial cooperatives, mutual housing, and community-owned renewable energy initiatives.”

“For the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association and Cooper Square Community Land Trust housing to remain deeply affordable, it must continue to grow,” said Valerio Orselli, Project Director at Cooper Square Community Land Trust, which has preserved more than 400 units of deeply affordable housing, as well as commercial space, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “City Council discretionary funding will support our community organizing, education about the CLT model, and acquisition of additional properties in our catchment area, to preserve permanently affordable housing.”

“As a third-generation resident of Brownsville, I am working to organize residents to lead the Brownsville Community Land Trust, which will guarantee permanent affordability and allow multiple generations of families to stay in their homes,” said Taurean Lewis, Community Engagement Specialist at the Brownsville Partnership. “City Council funding will support our CLT as it gets off the ground and prepares to acquire its first property for permanently affordable housing.”

“Low-income communities like East New York, that are facing speculative development at the same time they are still recovering from the foreclosure crisis, are extremely vulnerable to displacement,” said Meredith McNair, Community Planner at Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation. “By providing funding for CLTs, the City Council would be investing in a proven strategy to preserve affordable housing and promote economic mobility for both renters and homeowners.”

“Community Land Trusts are a powerful model for long-term affordable housing and community decision-making,” said Elizabeth Clay Roy, Executive Director for Community Development Project, which provides no-cost legal services for community organizations and is working with several emerging land trusts. “CLTs can be the cornerstone of equitable neighborhoods that make New York City stronger.”

“CLTs hold the promise of permanent housing affordability, which supports thriving families and individuals who are invested in their communities,” said Kathleen Bielsa, Deputy Director of Northfield Local Development Corporation. “Affordable housing protected on CLT land will define our neighborhoods and provide solutions for generations to come, and we are here today to gain recognition and support for this compelling movement.”


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