Even as politicians work to reenact Jim Crow-era silences about how white supremacy has shaped America, reparations are on the table as they have never been before. After an upswell of grassroots organizing in 2020, we’re seeing a new level of recognition that descendants of enslaved people, whose labor was stolen, are owed a debt. While that organizing has fueled a collective understanding of the need for repair, progress has been bogged down by the weight of that debt and questions about how such debts can be repaid. These questions have been taken up across the country, from the California Reparations Task Force to the cities of Boston, Evanston, Kansas City, Knoxville and St. Louis, among others.
For African-American farmers -- afflicted by the legacy of slavery, racism, and land theft -- the struggle for emancipation has not been easy. I was therefore excited to learn about Jubilee Justice, a fledgling project that is trying to reclaim farmland for BIPOC farmers and secure their economic livelihoods. Besides embracing cooperatives and community land trusts, Jubilee Justice is dedicated to an open-source, climate-friendly type of rice farming and to courageous "transformational learning journeys" for racial healing. You can learn more about these experiments in commoning in my interview with Konda Mason on the latest episode of my podcast Frontiers of Commoning models of restorative economics and finance.
The Marching Cobras drill team kicked off an energetic, two-hour rally over the weekend, led by the housing advocacy group KC Tenants. Saturday's rally took place outside Gabriel Towers, a lower-income apartment building that lost air conditioning for weeks last summer, sparking the formation of a tenant union and calls for a federal investigation. One of the event's speakers, Sabrina Davis, said she is disabled and has slid from bad to worse housing in recent years. But she said her complaints about insects and leaks fell on deaf ears. “In Kansas City today, in the world today, in this housing market, my landlord does have all the power over me," Davis says.
Since 2018, I can often be found at our local community center—listening, learning, sharing, and strategizing around the table with community members on ways to push the city for more affordable housing and prevent the displacement of neighborhood residents. We are members of Dorchester Not for Sale (@DotNot4Sale), a grass-roots alliance of more than 100 residents organizing for a community vision that protects residents most at risk of displacement; prioritizes affordable housing, good jobs, and community safety for current residents; and preserves ethnic-specific services that make our community of Dorchester, Massachusetts, home. I am passionate about housing security because it determines where we can afford to live and the quality of housing we can live in— all of which affects our health, the health of our communities, and of future generations.
On last week’s call in Scalawag’s Solidarity Over Distance series, organizers and legal advocates across the South were excited to share both immediate and long term strategies to address the housing realities in their states laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis. Cooperating attorney for Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama, Richard Rice, managed to speak optimistically of the moment. “We have a captive audience—and folks are ready for new ideas... The crisis is obviously severe... however, we do have an opportunity it presents as well to change things to change the dynamics on a fundamental level. Some of those things look like cooperative housing, community land trust, talking to folks who live in public housing about organizing tenant associations.”
This past year, state and municipal lawmakers teamed up with community organizations to fight for—and win—a wide variety of policies and initiatives that will help foster a more democratic economy. New measures supporting public banking, worker co-ops, and community land trusts were launched across the country, continuing to grow a robust, cooperative economic ecosystem that builds community wealth. Here, we’ve highlighted some of the most exciting changes in local and state policy that happened in 2019. Public banks, unlike their private counterparts beholden to the profit demands of Wall Street shareholders, are owned by and accountable to the public. This year saw some important victories in the movement for these democratic financial institutions.
So began remarks made by Dr. Shirley Sherrod, a cofounder of the nation’s first community land trust, New Communities Inc., to hundreds of people who gathered under a giant air-conditioned tent at the Resora farm near Albany, Georgia, during the community land trust’s 50th anniversary celebration. The gathering, designed to commemorate the founding of the nation’s first community land trust 50 years ago, was held earlier this month at Resora, a 1,638-acre farm (a little over two-and-half square miles of land) located about seven miles from Albany, Georgia—a farm that New Communities acquired in 2011.
When New Yorkers discuss the community land trust, they often describe it as a complicated land ownership structure, one that’s already proven its success in Bernie Sanders’ Burlington and in Boston. But the community land trust’s origin story reveals that it’s not simply a wonky policy tool dreamed up in the Ivy tower; rather, its roots lie in the life-and-death struggle by Blacks for civil rights in the deep South. In the model, a community-controlled nonprofit owns land and ensures the buildings or other assets on that land continue to serve the community, such as by requiring homeowners to abide by sales restrictions on their homes. The “Arc of Justice,” a documentary released last summer and screened at the New School on Wednesday, explores the founding of the United States’ first community land trust by civil rights leaders in southern Georgia during the 1960s.
By Aaron Fernando for Grassroots Economic Organizing - This form of land ownership also prices out locals from areas that they historically lived and worked in by increasing costs — catalyzing the process of gentrification. It also privatizes and encloses common spaces and areas that previously benefitted surrounding communities, ultimately leading to a more fragmented society, one required to focus on unsustainable short-term profits. All this holds true as long as land remains on the market. Yet what we see today is a resurgence and re-invention of ownership models that allow communities to take care of themselves and steward their own natural resources. The Community Land Trust (CLT) model is one that reduces the socially-destructive effects of market forces by separating the ownership of land with the ownership of any property and equity atop the land itself. Affordable housing-related CLTs are probably best-known, but this model can be applied for any community goal, including lowering costs for small businesses and ensuring local food production. Though the CLT model has been re-emerging since the late 1960s, it is actually somewhat of a return to indigenous practices around ownership of land and resources. Winona LaDuke, anti-pipeline activist, water protector, and member of the Ojibwe nation spoke about this during the 1993 Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures.
By Kevon Paynter for Yes! Magazine - Men and women huddle inside the St. John’s United Methodist Church in central Baltimore. The air conditioning in the church is inefficient on a day when the outside temperature is over 100 degrees. Cold water bottles get distributed, along with paper towels to wipe off sweat. Many of these people are homeless or formerly homeless. Others are longtime residents struggling to afford their rent, and they are here to advocate for an affordable housing solution that could bring relief as well as fix Baltimore’s blight. They want Mayor Catherine Pugh to dedicate $40 million in the upcoming budget to fund community land trusts. Across the U.S., cities struggle with expanding income inequality and tight housing markets that drive up rent. These factors result in an extreme shortage of affordable housing. For every 100 low-income renters, there are 31 affordable units, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. Over the years, solutions have emerged. In Burlington, Vermont, and Boston, for example, community ownership of land through nonprofit community land trusts has had decades of success turning vacant lots into affordable housing.
By Staff of Rioonwatch - This is the second in a series of three articles summarizing reports on Brazilian housing law, organized by the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice at request of Catalytic Communities. The second report, summarized in part below, with additional information compiled by Catalytic Communities’ team, was produced by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP. To read the actual report, click here. Inextricably linked to Rio de Janeiro’s identity for more than a century, favelas today serve the essential function of providing affordable housing to nearly a quarter of the city’s residents. In recent years, however, many favelas have been subject to immense pressure in the form of both forced evictions and gentrification brought on by real estate speculation, that have affected the city as a whole.
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers for Popular Resistance. Last April after the killing of Freddie Gray Baltimore experienced an uprising. It was not what was shown on television, which highlighted a few hours of burning cars and buildings, but a week long event that brought the city together. People of all ages and races called for transformation of the city so it corrected the injustices of decades of neglect and racism in the poor black communities of East and West Baltimore. As you can hear from our first two guests the problems of police violence continue to plague Baltimore but residents or also organizing to make the call for change a reality. A year later there is a lot of community organizing going on, as you can hear from Derrick Chase and Abdul Salaam below, which will take time to show results. The city is also going through a major local election where a new mayor and city council will be elected.
Penn Loh for YES! Magazine - Tony Hernandez remembers playing as a child on the vacant lots in the Dudley Street neighborhood of Boston. In the 1980s, white flight and disinvestment had so devastated this neighborhood that more than 20 percent of the land—1,300 lots—lay vacant. Today, Hernandez owns a home on this land, one of 225 units of permanently affordable housing. His home is surrounded by parks and gardens, a town common, community center, charter school, community greenhouse, and several urban farms. This transformation was led by residents of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, who in the late 1980s established a community land trust to take democratic ownership of the land and guide development.