Jessica Clemente of Nos Quedamos at City Hall park on June 27.

New Yorkers urge Council to fund community land trusts

Community land trusts are gaining momentum across the city, and a majority of New Yorkers want city government to fund these initiatives so residents can decide how property in their neighborhoods can be used.

A group of community land trust supporters rallied at City Hall park on June 29 to demand the City Council allocate $1.1 million in the upcoming city budget to help support the initiatives citywide, which include the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards and Bronx CLT.

If passed, the Community Land Trust Initiative would make housing a human right, and would grant communities decision-making power about land use near where they live. 

“No one knows the community better than the community itself. The neighbors, the residents, the tenants,” said Julio Salazar, Community Liaison for Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez who represents parts of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Salazar added that the law would create “a just vision of affordable housing.”

Jessica Clemente, CEO of Melrose-based housing advocacy group Nos Quedamos said that South Bronx land trusts have already established the groundwork for making land-use decisions that can benefit low-income residents.

“The community has already laid out a path forward on how to break through the cycles of poverty, how to bring equity, how to bring balance,” said Clemente.

The Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards, whose creators have organized residents to turn a deteriorated detox center into a community-run center for health care, education and the arts (H.E.ARTS), would be a major beneficiary.

So would the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition’s Bronx Community Land Trust, which aims to preserve and build affordable housing for residents as well as affordable commercial, industrial and green spaces.

Two years ago, the City Council launched a discretionary funding initiative to help support organizing in neighborhoods citywide, in order to create permanently affordable housing.

The push for land trusts is gaining ground with the public.  In a recent poll from The Appeal, 69 percent of voters said they support the city’s plan to provide grants for community land trusts.

Elected officials have also thrown their weight behind the model. Council member Carlina Rivera of the 2nd City Council District joined the activists at the City Hall rally to voice her support, pointing out the success of an initiative in her district, that “not only provides hundreds of longtime low income residents with deeply affordable rents,” but also “holds 22 small businesses with global market rents. It is incredible.”

Deputy Public Advocate for Housing Delsenia Glover called funding for land trusts next year “a no-brainer. There’s no downside and it is time that New Yorkers like us who are not wealthy, take control of our city.”

The mayor and City Council are currently in talks over the budget in advance of the new fiscal year, which starts on July 3rd. 

Those pushing for the bill urged de Blasio to make land trusts a priority.

“Invest in communities that have to bear and live through these decisions,” said Clemente. “So stand with us today. Let’s fight for that money. Let’s not stop at that million.”

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