New Communities Inc. recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary. As the nation’s first community land trust, the organization was created by African American farmers and residents in southwest Georgia during the civil rights movement. The nearly 6,000-acre collective farm was, at its inception, the largest property owned by African Americans in the United States, created with the goal to also include affordable housing. New Communities has served as a model for over 280 community land trusts across the country, proven in helping address the need for permanently affordable housing and commercial real estate. ULC hosted the historic premier of Arc of Justice, a documentary focused on the origin of the New Communities in 2016.
Bummi Anderson, who grew up as part of New Communities, says “You know when you’re talking about land for African Americans, for anybody, land is power. Land is equity. Land is wealth.”
America is founded on a history of institutional racism. African Americans were brought to this country to build it from the ground up, but not to share equally in its growth. This intergenerational and historical trauma integrated into every aspect of African American culture and has deeply affected the communities where they live. Not only have African Americans, and other people of color, experienced mandated housing segregation through structured racist systems like redlining, but they continue to experience higher numbers of displacement as the neighborhoods they have called home for generations are now the epicenters of urban redevelopment.
At ULC, we are committed to building and preserving equitable communities for the long term. To accomplish this, we rely on a community land trust (CLT), inspired by New Communities. We know that by preserving land in historically redlined neighborhoods in Denver and surrounding communities, we are engaging communities to not only have a voice in where they live but ensuring land remains affordable in perpetuity.
ULC’s CLT is a non-traditional approach to real estate investment and development. We invest in the land, and only sell the improvements or development rights to ensure the built space will have community benefit for generations. Our CLT ground lease is in place for 99 years, with an automatic 99 year renewal for a total of 198 years of land control. This innovative approach has demonstrated significant impact in the preservation of permanent affordability in schools, affordable housing, community centers, and affordable nonprofit commercial space.
We also know that the time to contribute to our land trust is NOW. As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens a repeat of the “land grab” that occurred after the 2008 Great Recession, we must urgently commit to Black and Brown communities that have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus to ensure they are not further ravaged by the already difficult housing crisis. As Nikishka Iyengar and John Haines state in their op-ed, Preparing for the Post-COVID-19 Land Grab, “Market dynamics from before COVID-19, driven by a history of codified racism in urban development and planning, mean that a lot of those deals will more than likely be found in low- to modest-income communities of color.”
ULC is committed to providing permanently affordable real estate options for communities most impacted by displacement. Now is the time to divest from systems that contribute to racial injustices, and to reinvest in communities that are targeted for market-rate redevelopment. There is much more work to do, and we will continue to fight for the communities we serve.
P.S. To learn more about community land trusts and shared equity housing, check out Grounded Solutions Network.