Testimony to the New York City Council
Committee on Housing and Buildings
Preliminary Budget Hearing for FY2023
March 14, 2022
Good afternoon, Chair Sanchez and members of the Committee, and thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Deyanira Del Rio and I am the Co-Executive Director at New Economy Project, a citywide organization that works with community groups to build an economy that works for all, rooted in racial and social justice, neighborhood equity, cooperation, and ecological sustainability. New Economy Project coordinates coalitions and campaigns to challenge systemic discrimination in our financial system and economy, and to support cooperative and community-led development in NYC neighborhoods of color.
I’m pleased to testify today about community land trusts (CLTs), and to urge the Committee to support $3 million in FY2023 funding for the Citywide CLT Initiative (see attached one-pager). New Economy Project further urges the Committee to advance legislation to strengthen CLTs and expand non-speculative, community- and tenant-controlled housing. In the wake of the pandemic, public investment in CLTs and other forms of social housing will be critical to stabilize housing, combat speculation, and promote a just recovery in low income and Black and brown neighborhoods hardest-hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
With coalition partners in the NYC Community Land Initiative, New Economy Project has supported the growth of CLTs to address our city’s affordability crisis and advance racial equity. CLTs are community-governed nonprofits that own land and ensure that it is used to provide permanently-affordable housing and other public benefit. The CLT model is flexible and meant to support a range of community needs – from rental housing and limited-equity cooperatives to commercial and cultural spaces, community gardens, and more. Locally, CLTs are rooted in broader movements for housing justice and economic democracy.
CLTs are designed to permanently lock in affordability restrictions. In this way, they protect public investment and ensure that housing remains affordable over generations. Cooper Square CLT on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, for example, has stewarded more than 300 units of deeply-affordable housing for households at 26% – 36% of Area Median Income (AMI), as well as two dozen storefronts for local small businesses, in a neighborhood with rapidly rising rents.
Launched in FY2020, the Citywide CLT Initiative has helped catalyze CLT organizing in the South and Northwest Bronx, East Harlem, Richmond Hill, Brownsville, East New York and beyond. Groups in the initiative have made major strides – engaging thousands of renters, homeowners and small business owners in education and organizing; developing strong grassroots leadership; incorporating new CLTs; and acquiring and preserving hundreds of permanently and deeply-affordable housing units as well as community and retail spaces. Strong support in the FY2023 budget will allow groups to sustain and build on this tremendous progress.
In addition to increasing discretionary funding support for CLTs, NYC Council should pass legislation such as the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), which would give CLTs and other mission-driven nonprofits a first right to purchase buildings when landlords sell. The Council should permanently abolish – and work with the administration and community groups to replace – the tax lien sale. We further urge the Council to pursue legislation requiring NYC to prioritize CLTs and other nonprofits when selling or transferring public land. We look forward to working with this Committee to develop and win passage of these proposals.
New York City’s housing and land disposition policies have, for decades, prioritized large for-profit developers and exacerbated inequality. The City’s approach has accelerated market-rate development in low-income, majority Black and brown neighborhoods; creation of so-called “affordable” housing that is out of reach for most neighborhood residents; and displacement of longtime, low-income New Yorkers from their communities and networks of support. We need new and community-driven solutions, like CLTs, and policymaking that removes land and housing from the speculative market, for good.
We urge the City Council to redouble its commitment to CLTs at this critical time. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today.