This past week America suffered a great loss with the passing of Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. Over the long winding road of his life, Representative Lewis committed every step he took toward social and racial justice. Personally, I am amazed at his unwavering commitment to non-violent protest in ending Jim Crow Laws, even after being beaten numerous times by racist police. I appreciate what Lewis did to further the causes of justice, recognizing that he understood there are two indisputable staples individuals need for security in the United States: the right to vote and the ability to own land. His commitment to ensuring that Black people gained the right to vote is well documented—from being the youngest speaker on the March on Washington in 1963 to risking his life crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge “Bloody Sunday” with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the march to Selma Alabama in 1965. The son of sharecroppers in rural Alabama, Lewis also understood the power of owning land, having learned this lesson from his parents, who worked tirelessly in order to buy, from a white landowner, the property on which they worked.
Representative Lewis is featured in the documentary, Arc of Justice, which tells the journey of Charles and Shirley Sherrod and New Communities, Inc. in Albany, Georgia. New Communities was the first community land trust and the largest black-owned property (nearly 6,000 acres) in the United States at the time of its founding. In the film, Lewis shares how poor Blacks were forced off their land in the South when they attempted to vote—the recognition being that both land ownership and voting are markers of power by those working to uphold racist systems. Lewis stated, “If you had your own little piece of land, then you could do things and you wouldn’t be dependent on others.”
The good news of this week is that ULC, in our small way, has carried on Lewis’s legacy of gaining power through land ownership, as residents moved into the newly opened Walnut Street Lofts, 66 permanently affordable apartments developed by Medic Consulting Group, which are held in ULC’s 99-year ground lease.
ULC acquired the land that Walnut Street Lofts sits on in 2011 at $25 sq. ft. If we had to purchase the property today, it would cost about $200 sq. ft. and would not be feasible for affordable housing. This is the true value of the community land trust: purchasing land and preserving it for uses that benefit the community in perpetuity.
That concept of land stewardship and usage expanded with this particular purchase in Denver’s Cole neighborhood. After completing the environmental remediation of the site, ULC had the opportunity to provide temporary space for people experiencing homelessness with what became Beloved Community Village. In doing so, we broke ground in a new way. In partnership with Colorado Village Collaborative and Radian, Tiny Home Village was the first of its kind in Colorado. As is often the case with new things, the community resisted at first but came to embrace the “Villagers” by the time the units were moved to their permanent home in Globeville Elyria Swansea when construction began on Walnut Streets Lofts.
One of those Villagers was a man named Jimmy. Proudly, Jimmy just moved into his new apartment at Walnut Street Lofts and will have the opportunity to gain more stability in his life, just as the Cole neighborhood can better stabilize, in terms of having a variety of income levels and affordable housing options.
As the journey to provide affordable real-estate throughout Colorado continues, the greatest lesson I hold from Representative Lewis is to take one thoughtful step at a time and make each step count.
The Journey Continues,