Dear Congress: Housing Investments in Community Controlled Housing


July 26, 2021

Hon. Patrick Leahy

437 Russell Senate Budling
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Hon. Rosa L. DeLauro

2413 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Senator Leahy and Representative DeLauro,

We, the undersigned organizations, and individuals that organize, mobilize, and advocate on matters of housing justice, ask that you include $318 billion in federal housing investments for extremely low-income households, first proposed in the American Jobs Act, in any budget reconciliation legislation. Increased federal investments in public and subsidized housing are long overdue. Social housing, such as public and non-profit housing can meet the twin goals of housing affordability AND housing stability, through both capital and operating assistance. We also ask that as you make these investments, you guide states and localities to reward affordable housing developed by community-organizing, such as Community Land Trusts, limited equity co-operatives, and resident owned communities, thereby putting those efforts on equal footing with traditional low-income housing models.

The structures and models of affordable housing impact its operating culture. This is most obvious during times of crisis. During the foreclosure crisis, the community involvement in the Community Land Trust model kept low-income homeowners protected from delinquencies and displacement, with foreclosure rates at less than 1%, compared to the 15% subprime foreclosure rate. Currently, while COVID-19 landlords find eviction moratorium loopholes or refuse to participate in federally funded emergency rental assistance programs, housing providers established through community organizing have increased motivation to link residents to programs, work out payment arrangements, and even, when CARES money was available, convert hotels into permanent housing for persons who are homeless.

Non-traditional, community and resident ownership models often require state and local governments to adjust their operating cultures to accept legal documents and financing that appears “out of the box.” When these adjustments are made, community ownership models have not only gained traction, but have a track record of success.

This can be furthered with rewards for state and localities (and their respective housing agencies) that recognize successful community organized housing, in federal programs that provide capital funding–HOME Investment Partnership, the National Housing Trust Fund, Community Development Block Grants, Low-Income Housing tax credits (LIHTC), Rural Housing—as well as in federal rental housing operating funds–Project Based Vouchers, Project Based Rental Assistance, Housing Choice Vouchers and vouchers for special populations. Other programs such as HOPWA and Continuum of Care funding for persons who are homeless also should be included where community organizing is present.

In short, state and local distribution of federal funds could give weight to communities that are self-organizing to create and preserve housing. Where these efforts exist in racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, they should be recognized as parts of a neighborhood revitalization strategy under the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” obligations of the Federal Fair Housing Act.

Community revitalization is not a science, but a holistic mix of community leadership, social connection, cultural awareness, and capital. Community organizers understand this, and their place–based organizing work includes preserving existing affordable housing, protecting existing residents from displacement, and preserving neighborhood cultural assets. This should be rewarded and encouraged.

Community land trusts were created during the Civil Rights movement, when Black farmers came together to overcome the gatekeepers that kept them from owning their own farms. They are but one of a number of place-based community organizing efforts used by Black households and people of color to survive and maintain dignity when many federal, state, and local policies worked against them.

During this time of shifting federal policy, we ask you to not only honor the work of Civil Rights pioneers, but reward the community organizing efforts of Black, Indigenous and People of Color as they exercise their right of self-determination, increase community social cohesion, and engage in the complex world of housing finance.

Respectfully submitted,

Peter Sabonis

Human Right to Development Director

Partners for Dignity & Rights           

(And 183 other signatories)

(Photo by Rob Robinson)