By Natalia Sucre, Research and Writing Librarian
The Problem and How You Can Help
This chart shows the numbers. As New Yorkers in our neighborhoods, we see the reality daily, including those on the street who rarely make it to shelters. At the same time, we are witness to the ongoing profit-driven development of a luxury city that makes it impossible for upcoming generations to afford their own neighborhoods. And too often, these developments are licensed by the misleading floater label of “affordable housing” — not to be confused with “low-income housing.”
Below you can read about how a social justice alliance, New York City Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI), formerly Picture the Homeless proposes to use the opportunity the NYC Racial Justice Commission offers to get at the root of this crisis. See what they have to say below and, if it speaks to you, support their proposal by providing direct testimony on private developments in your neighborhoods and your experience with the current affordable housing system. See the NYCLI Take Action page here.
In addition, we ask that you send your testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll put it all together as an MCNY community report, send it to our guest speakers as a thank you, and share it with you all.
Question & Answer
Can a reform to the New York City Charter redress the current housing and homelessness crisis in our city? Akilah Browne, Skadden Legal Fellow, and Elise Golden, CLT Campaign Organizer, both at the New Economy Project and NYCCLI, answered this question with a resounding YES at the library’s second fall virtual roundtable.
Becoming a Housing Justice Advocate
A native New Yorker of Trinidadian heritage, Ms. Browne began by sharing her lifelong ambition to become a lawyer and defend tenants in housing court. She then told the story of how she came to seek deeper solutions upon witnessing the wholesale eviction of her father’s block in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The staggering repetition of individual losses led her to ask: What could have stopped this? The answer: structural legal change around land speculation and a more mobilized, better organized community. In her own account of becoming a housing justice advocate, Ms. Golden reinforced the importance of community organizing, drawing on her long experience in tenant rights work and collective actions.
The Community Land Trust Model
One piece of the deeper solution according to NYCCLI is the community land trust, a model for shared, racially equitable development.
A community land trust (CLT) is a non-profit organization that holds and stewards land for the public good and is run democratically by community stakeholders. Crucially, the CLT model keeps land out of the speculative market in perpetuity and bases land use on community needs. CLTs in the U.S. were born in the 1960s out of civil rights organizing in Georgia and have most often worked to stabilize communities by creating real and permanent affordable housing as well as community-run green open spaces. In New York City, the CLT movement has grown over the past few years and now includes about 15 CLTs. Here and across the country, the CLT model serves to redress racial inequities. Learn more in this information-packed article by Akhila Browne herself.
The Value of Public Land in NYC
Land is key to a community land trust, and land is hard to come by in New York City … but there is public land. The map above shows in green all the vacant land currently owned by city agencies (explore for yourself at NYCommons.org). As Ms. Browne so eloquently puts it, in this map the city sees real estate opportunities. Housing justice advocates see a chance to take land out of speculation and secure it for community-driven uses through community land trusts. Could that work?
Structural Change: A Proposal
NYCCLI argues that a simple addition to Section 384 of the New York City Charter can reverse the uncontrolled speculation on land that fuels displacement in the city. The NYC Racial Justice Commission can create a ballot proposal that prioritizes CLTs and other community-based nonprofits during the transfer or leasing of city property, making the land available to them at a price significantly below market value as long as they keep any housing or other development on that land permanently affordable and engage community members in continuous meaningful decision-making over the land’s use.
Our guests vigorously laid out the components of this proposal and invited the MCNY community to support getting this reform on the November 2022 ballot by taking action here.