By Jason Linetsky
Gentrification, the fear of public housing privatization, and the lack of affordable housing has led to a novel idea of the East New York Community Land Trust (ENYCLT). ENYCLT was created in early 2020 with the goal of keeping land under the control of the community.
Starting in April 2020 a steering committee, now numbering around 30-40 members, began research into empty lots across East New York, which are under NYC ownership. These lots have stayed unused for years with no sign of the city finding a purpose for them. Once a lot has been confirmed as one of the city’s properties, the CLT works to gain control of it via gifting from the city, eminent domain, purchase and various other methods. Ownership grants the CLT an avenue to have whatever it wants on the land.
“The committee has been going out to speak to people living around some of the sites we’re interested in,” stated Staff Coordinator Hannah Anousheh. “The majority of these have been vacant lots and some underutilized parking lots. We’re reaching out to residents and telling them ‘Hey, this is city owned. This is owned by us. What would you like to see on these sites? What would be beneficial to you and the community?’ We’re continuing to do this with all the sites and we’re going to take what we hear to the city. We’ll tell them we want to take control of these sites and we have a vision for using the sites.”
Once a site is handed over or sold to the CLT, the committee will begin the process of turning it into what the community deems necessary. Ideas can range anywhere from a simple community garden or playground to an affordable housing building or daycare center. However, it must be what the community needs or can benefit from. The CLT also guarantees that all projects will be completed by local workers and companies, adding potentially dozens, if not hundreds, of more job opportunities for East New York residents.
“We go out and try to inform residents about what the CLT is,” said ENYCLT Secretary Debra Ack. “How it can help grow the East New York community and we try to get people on board with it. We let them know how we want to take back the land and have it controlled by the community. Let them know that the community has a say in what is built on the land. We’re not like the regular developers who come into the community, take land, build whatever they like and leave the community. We do surveys with the community. ‘What do you want to see on this lot? What is missing from your community?’ We get answers like community centers to keep kids off the streets, the need for fresh produce in greenmarkets or community gardens for residents to grow their own produce. There is the need for more black-owned businesses and opportunities for youth to start businesses.”
Although the ENYCLT is currently only seeking to take over vacant and parking lots, under the definition of a CLT future plans will include seeking to gain plots of land from homeowners. In other words the land would be kept within the community and unable to be used for anything against the wishes of the community. Homeowners who take advantage of the deal would basically gift the land of their property to the ENYCLT in exchange for a 99 year renewable ground lease. “The ground lease lays out affordability restrictions and other terms for CLT properties, guaranteeing affordability and community benefit in perpetuity. This permanence helps keep multiple generations in their homes and communities, and also ensures that investments made in CLTs are not eventually lost to the free market through expiring affordability terms.”
With the power and abilities a land trust offers, unwanted developers and real estate companies are stopped dead in their tracks. It can effectively reverse or stop gentrification while making more properties into “for the community, by the community” projects. According to the ENYCLT site, recent studies have also found that 1) “homes in community trusts have lower rates of delinquency and foreclosure than homes with conventional mortgages; 2) The high prevalence of comprehensive stewardship practices – spanning education, prevention, and intervention activities – may help to explain the low rates of delinquencies and foreclosures and high cure rates in community land trusts.”
While the CLT is currently only within East New York, future work may include Brownsville and Cypress Hill.
For more information about the East New York Community Land Trust, go to www.eastnewyorkclt.org or call (646) 335-5973.