Community Land Trusts help keep affordable housing in revitalizing neighborhoods

The Mott Haven-Port Morris community in the New York City borough of the Bronx is struggling to overcome decades of environmental injustice and economic neglect.

Lining the waterfront sits one of the city’s largest industrial areas, where fossil fuel power plants, waste transfer stations and diesel truck-intensive businesses have caused a health crisis across the community, which faces asthma rates eight times the national average.

But revitalization is coming, as evidenced by twelve market-rate rentals and six new hotels that will soon bring thousands of luxury residential units into this community, where 38% of its residents and 49% of its children live in poverty. The average median income is $19,454-—the lowest in the state-—and the unemployment rate is over three times the national rate.

Now, a possible solution is emerging, which will allow the much-needed revitalization to take place while maintainin affordable housing for long-time local residents.

The Design Trust for Public Space recently concluded their 2017 contest, entitled Public for All: Rethinking Shared Space in NYC. One of the winning projects was the Community Land Trust as a Model for Public Space. It was proposed by South Bronx Unite, in collaboration with New York City Community Land Initiative and the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards.

As has been previously reported here in REVITALIZATION. community land trusts (CLT) are emerging as possibly the best approach to increasing affordable housing in neighborhoods that are revitalizing. And not just in the U.S.: we also reported on how it’s also working in Canada.

The Community Land Trust as a Model for Public Space proposal seeks to take this trend to the next level, by creating a more-rigorous, replicable approach. “South Bronx Unite is trying to figure out the right toolkit and technology that the local people need to know to understand the complexities of ownership, assets, and control of public space for the benefit of the community,” said Justin Garrett Moore, Executive Director, NYC Public Design Commission.

Building on a deep legacy of community organizing roots, which has manifested in a dynamic community land trust model for community-driven redevelopment of underutilized public space, the winning South Bronx Unite proposal seeks to build a precedential data and mapping project that geographically identifies potential physical assets, social and cultural capital, as well as impediments, for the creation of affordable public space responsive to community needs in the Mott Haven-Port Morris area in the Bronx.

The project will organize those assets into an umbrella urban development plan, and establish an advocacy platform for presenting such results to the community, policy makers and other stakeholders. This will advance the community land trust as a sustainable, community-owned development model citywide.

A community land trust would allow the residents of the rapidly-revitalizing neighborhood to own and manage real estate for the perpetual public benefit. “We’ve been recharged with the belief that community is the answer—and empowering those who have been left behind. We thank you for understanding the need for us to fight together for our community,” said Mychal Johnson, Cofounder, South Bronx Unite.

The Design Trust will develop and implement the winning project ideas in partnership with their proposers, engaging community stakeholders from the get-go. Design Trust projects create tangible impact by changing the system, by producing replicable models or tools, by creating a catalyst, and by building a well-informed constituency. “Design Trust is well positioned to lend their expertise on design and policy to be able to push and challenge the system and the project teams. Both projects will have implications on equitable public space, from affordable housing and neighborhood stabilization, to creating a safe and welcoming urban environment,” said Kerry A. McLean, Community Development Vice President, Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco).

We can’t wait to start working with our new project partners to lift these brilliant ideas off the ground. We’re excited to be able to address together the fundamental questions of a thriving global metropolis that struggles with social, economic, and environmental injustices. How do we balance the newcomers and the folks who have been here for a long time? How do we figure out a framework that allows for change, while keeping the heart of what our neighborhoods have been? We’ll keep you abreast of how our two new Public for All projects develop!” said Susan Chin, FAIA, Hon. ASLA, Executive Director, Design Trust for Public Space.

What impressed me about South Bronx Unite’s proposal is that it’s a very practical approach and yet a radical one. Though the community land trust model is relatively untested, through their comprehensive social and physical asset mapping of the Mott Haven-Port Morris area, I believe South Bronx Unite can unlock the potential of this new ownership model for great long-term benefits to this severely under-served South Bronx community,” said Zack McKown, Tsao & McKown Architects, Design Trust Board.

Photo credit: South Bronx Unite

See Design Trust for Public Space website.

See South Bronx Unite website.

See New York City Community Land Initiative website.

See Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards website.

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