Testimony Before the New York City Council Committee on Finance, on Funding for the Citywide Community Land Trust (CLT) Initiative
Testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Finance
May 21, 2020
Good afternoon, Committee Chair Dromm and members of the Committee, and thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of New Economy Project. My name is Julia Duranti-Martinez, and I am the Community Land Trust Campaign Coordinator at New Economy Project, an economic justice organization that works with community groups to build an economy that works for all, rooted in racial and gender justice, neighborhood equity, and ecological sustainability. New Economy Project has worked for more than 25 years to combat inequities in our financial system and economy, and to promote cooperative, community-led development. New Economy Project co-convenes the NYC Community Land Initiative, a coalition dedicated to expanding community land trusts and deeply-affordable, community-controlled housing and neighborhood development in NYC.
New Economy Project and 14 partner organizations are part of a citywide Community Land Trust (CLT) Initiative that seeks $1.5 million in FY2021 City Council discretionary funding. More than ever, NYC needs CLTs to provide stable and permanently-affordable housing, combat displacement, and ensure a just recovery for all New Yorkers. We urge the Council to renew funding for the CLT Initiative in NYC’s FY2021 budget.
The CLT Initiative directly addresses NYC’s affordability crisis, by developing community-led CLTs and permanently-affordable housing, commercial space, and other community needs, in all five NYC boroughs. With FY2020 support, more than a dozen CLTs are in formation in Jackson Heights, the South Bronx, East Harlem, Brownsville, East New York, and other low-income neighborhoods of color — many of which are now hardest-hit by COVID-19. By addressing unaffordable and substandard housing, environmental degradation, and displacement of longtime residents and small businesses, CLTs work to address root causes of health and economic disparities, and will be crucial to prevent displacement and ensure an equitable recovery in the years to come. (See attached CLT Initiative one-pager and progress report.)
CLTs are community-controlled nonprofits that own and steward land in a community’s interest, and lease use of the land for permanently-affordable housing and other local needs. By removing land and housing from the speculative market, CLTs combat displacement and protect public subsidy. The longstanding Cooper Square CLT, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, for example, stewards nearly 400 permanently-affordable homes for families earning as low as 28% AMI, and storefronts for over 20 local small businesses. More than a dozen CLTs across the city are organizing to develop mutual and multifamily housing, limited-equity cooperatives, and foreclosure prevention strategies for owners of 1-4 family homes — as well as retail, community, and cultural spaces, community gardens, community-owned solar, and other infrastructure — reflecting the flexibility of the CLT model.
When COVID-19 hit, CLTs quickly mobilized to address community needs, leveraging relationships and trust built through CLT organizing activities. For example, the Cooper Square CLT and Mutual Housing Association have coordinated to conduct wellness checks and ensure that residents struggling to pay maintenance fees or rent during the COVID-19 crisis can remain in their homes; this approach is embedded in their partnership model and shared mission. Other emerging CLTs are calling for rent suspension, connecting tenants to legal assistance, and distributing food and supplies to elderly and homebound community residents — serving as hubs for mutual aid and organizing. In all of these ways, CLTs transcend the typical landlord-tenant relationship and are especially critical in times of crisis. CLTs were essential, for example, in preventing foreclosures following the 2008 financial crash and in recovery efforts after Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico. CLTs are similarly needed to stem evictions, foreclosures, and speculation in the wake of COVID-19, and to contribute to a just recovery in black and brown neighborhoods hardest-hit by the pandemic.
We urge the City Council to sustain and expand its support for CLTs, through discretionary funding and in policymaking that strengthens property pipelines to CLTs for critical preservation and development. We further urge the Council to strengthen NYC’s cooperative economy, of which CLTs are a part, through the Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative and other efforts that advance democratic ownership, racial equity, and neighborhood self-determination.
With Council support, CLTs have made major strides in NYC and are redefining communities’ relationship to land and housing. We urge the Council to continue building on this progress through renewed discretionary funding support, and we thank you again for the opportunity to testify.
Please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com or 212-680-5100 for further information.
 See Thaden, E. (2011). Stable Home Ownership in a Turbulent Economy: Delinquencies and Foreclosures Remain Low in Community Land Trusts. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy Working Paper.
 See Algoed, L. & Hernández Torrales, M. (2019). The Land is Ours. Vulnerabilization and resistance in informal settlements in Puerto Rico: Lessons from the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust. Radical Housing Journal 1(1): 29-47