Seventy percent of Chesapeake Bay watershed residents live within urban areas. As we think about how we connect urban residents with land conservation–or rather, how we ensure land conservation is relevant and addressing the needs of urban residents–it’s worth taking a look at the work of community land trusts.
Community land trusts are found in many urban areas around the nation, including the Chesapeake watershed. These organizations generally focus on acquiring land to provide for affordable housing, but also engage in protecting land for urban green space, community gardens and other local priorities.
The basic model for addressing affordable housing is for the land trust to buy a property, and then resell the housing unit(s) on the land at an affordable price, while retaining ownership of the land underneath. Purchasers of the housing units agree that if they resell the house in the future, a portion of any proceeds above the original purchase price goes back to the trust to reduce the cost for a future buyer.
In Richmond, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust works to “develop and maintain permanently affordable homeownership opportunities for low and moderate-income households.” Founded in 2016, the trust already owns 16 properties with single family homes on them. The organization has also recently established a Richmond Land Bank to “acquire, maintain, and return vacant and blighted property to productive use.”
Washington DC’s Douglass Community Land Trust developed out of concern that the 11th Street Bridge Park Project–an elevated park over the Anacostia River–would lead to increasing gentrification east of the river, a large historically African-American neighborhood. The trust recently received coverage in the Washington Post of both its founding and its first pending major project at the 65 unit Savannah Apartments. The trust contributed $1.3 million to the acquisition and will hold title to the land.
The link between development of the Bridge Park and creation of the Douglass Community Land Trust speaks to the importance of connecting parks, recreation and conservation with equity, inclusivity and affordability. The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership has identified this as a key priority to address within the land conservation movement, and a number of speakers and a session at last week’s Annual Meeting focused on it. Community land trusts present natural partnering opportunities for Partnership members, such as in collaborating to acquire urban green spaces that complement lands community land trusts acquire for affordable housing.
We hope to share more on these subjects in future Lightning Updates, including success stories of Partnership members taking action to address diversity, equity and inclusion in land conservation.