Baltimore Mayor Backs Public Funds for Community Land Trusts to Fight Displacement


On Saturday, May 13th, homeowners facing foreclosure, tenants facing eviction, and people living on the streets gathered in Baltimore to call on the Mayor to deal with the root cause of their challenges: speculative housing. As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Mayor Catherine Pugh responded, promising to endorse the Baltimore Housing Roundtable’s call for the City to issue $40 million in bonds annually for affordable housing and vacant housing deconstruction projects. The endorsement is a major achievement for Baltimore’s poor and working class Black communities.

The Housing Roundtable’s core demand is that the City of Baltimore commit $40 million every year in funding to fight displacement by creating permanently affordable non-speculative housing. $20 million of the funding would go to financing community land trusts, which make homeownership accessible to low-income residents, protect communities against displacement, and keep housing affordable for future generations. Another $20 million would go toward deconstructing vacant housing and creating homes, parks, and urban farms by employing local community members.

This “20/20” demand was first put forth by the Roundtable in a January 2016 report, Community + Land + Trust:  Tools for Development Without Displacement, which was co-authored by NESRI, a member of the Housing Roundtable. The report documented how structural racism and inequality have created a city in which 40% of residents are now at risk of homelessness. It also created a policy roadmap to an equitable housing system that, rather than simply helping communities cope with the effects of housing injustices, addresses the market speculation at the root of residents’ struggles.

At Saturday’s event, LaQeisha Green, a leader from United Workers (a member organization of the Roundtable), spoke movingly about her trials and tribulations with the speculative housing market. “I’m 35, and I’ve moved 27 times,” said Green, recounting how a childhood of displacement was followed by a stint of homelessness and the loss of her own children to foster care.

Green cited last summer’s successful petition drive to establish a Baltimore Housing Trust Fund, which prioritizes the very poor, as an example of how everyday people working together can win.

“We need to push the reset button on this system and make it meet human needs,” she said. “We showed we can lead. We can do this!”

Homeowners at the event spoke about being foreclosed on by global hedge funds that purchased their mortgages. Renters talked of substandard housing, lead paint, and a rent court that a Baltimore Sun investigation found favors landlords. A resident of a homeless shelter called on the gathering to read H.R. 40, Rep. John Conyer’s bill to establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. All speakers called on the City to commit to the 20/20 plan.

When the Roundtable began its 20/20 Campaign in 2015, few city officials or stakeholders understood community land trusts (CLTs), which are the keystone of the 20/20 vision for equitable development and low-income housing. As a member of the Housing Roundtable, NESRI has helped advance research, political education, policy advocacy, and coalition building that has brought the 20/20 campaign to this milestone.

“CLTs are a ‘shared equity’ model,” explains Peter Sabonis, NESRI’s Director of Legal Strategies. “Like public housing, they keep housing permanently affordable, but with a CLT, the land is owned by the community, the homes are owned by the residents, and a legal agreement protects everyone from inflationary market speculation.”

On Saturday, City Councilor Mary Pat Clarke joined Mayor Pugh in voicing her support. “It’s worth the investment,” she said. “We need affordable housing that stays affordable.”

Both the Mayor’s and the Councilor’s remarks reflect tremendous progress by the 20/20 Campaign over the last 18 months.

The Roundtable now moves into “Rise Up Summer,” a grassroots push to move 20/20 Campaign forward and hold the Mayor to her promise. The Roundtable will lead a petition drive and host town hall meetings in key legislative districts. The Mayor’s capital budget will be finalized in January 2018.