Advancing Long-Term Stewardship Toward a Just Recovery
Advancing long-term community stewardship support tenants and helps to maintain local control of homes and businesses by supporting small landlords, small business owners in targeted neighborhoods and homeowners. It also can provide pathways to increase climate resilience and healthy housing.
Co-authored by Nicole Williams, ELOCIN Enterprises
We envision a housing system that embraces housing as critical community infrastructure and as a human right essential to health and well-being. We call for a community-centered, environmentally sustainable and healthy housing system where everyone has a safe, accessible and affordable home. Our Power: Pathways to Community Prosperity
Everyone deserves safe, stable, and affordable housing. In a country as wealthy as the United States, this shouldn’t be something we have to fight over. Yet historically, and increasingly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to this very housing has largely excluded low-income, Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Our country still has not recovered from the recession of 2008 with communities losing a substantial amount of affordable housing to private funds who sell to the highest bidder. The fallout from the imminent evictions crisis looms large on the horizon and, as Congress and the new administration move from relief to recovery planning, it’s imperative that recovery is rooted in equitable and just principles. Using these principles in partnership with national and local SPARCC partners, we offer the Advancing Long-Term Community Stewardship proposal.
People in communities across the country are facing economic challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and numerous natural disasters both of which compound the housing cost burden many households face. This includes a looming eviction crisis potentially followed by a spike in mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures, both of which disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities. It is essential for both short-term relief and longer-term economic recovery funds to strengthen neighborhoods by supporting the people that comprise them. This means preventing foreclosure of single-family homes, small-scale multi-family units, apartments and neighborhood commercial properties by providing funding opportunities to retain and increase individual property and collective ownership among community organizations and residents. Funding community stewardship will be key to keeping people in their homes.
The past has taught us that allowing housing robber barons to come and take advantage of existing neighborhoods pushes out low-income and working-class people making way for gentrification. Further, this practice exacerbates the cycle of housing being controlled by investors with limited interests in promoting equitable, climate resilient, and affordable housing. Creating a mechanism for greater levels of local and affordable ownership by organizations who are explicitly focused on racial equity in their mission would ensure these practices are quelled in the upcoming recovery. Alongside just-cause eviction and supportive tenants rights policies, local ownership could respond to the accelerating pace of evictions as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Community control could also address longstanding racial and systemic inequities of blight, displacement, environmental vulnerabilities faced by low-income, Black, Brown, Indigenous and communities of color everywhere.
Increasing the accessibility of shared-equity residential and business models offers an alternative to the existing extractive community and economic development model by creating more inclusive, culturally attuned, local economies that support keeping people in place if they so choose.
Funding this concept is not new. The Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) enacted in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 laid the groundwork for this proposal. It intended to move resources to empower the public sector and private non-profit actors to quickly acquire and control property that housed low and moderate-income families and businesses. This included financial assistance for home purchasers, rehabilitation and redevelopment, and establishment and operation of land banks. These policies are crucial to a full and complete recovery in our communities, but we can do more.
In reimagining an NSP-like program Congress has the opportunity to enact a forward-thinking new source of public funding. The Advancing Long-Term Community Stewardship proposal recommends providing funds to support tenants and keep local control of assets by supporting small landlords, small business owners in targeted neighborhoods and homeowners. This would be achieved by prioritizing a portion of the funding to smaller, community-based organizations led by people of color and focused on racial equity within their mission structure. Additionally, portions of the funding is proposed to be designated for tribal and state governments and competitive grants for qualifying non-profits. This will also protect the most vulnerable in our society including funding for renters from back rent and damaged credit, providing support to homebuyers and small business owners, supporting climate resilient and healthy housing upgrades, and preserving community assets.
Reimaging NSP and learning from the past implementation has surfaced a few times since its initial inception. The Project Rebuild proposal during the Obama administration proposed an allocation of $15 billion to communities in a combination of grants and formula to rebuild our economy. And more recently, the Affordable Housing Redevelopment Act introduced in February proposes to reinstate NSP at $1.5 billion to help state and local governments purchase abandoned, foreclosed, vacant or blighted properties and turn them into affordable housing.
While funding for local government is absolutely needed, so is the need to deeply resource community-based organizations, with special attention to those operating with shared equity frameworks. Shared equity models, community land banks and land trusts would have access to funds in the Restoring Communities Left Behind Act, which allocates $5 billion to increase home ownership, spur job creation and increase access to affordable housing. Similarly, Advancing Long-Term Community Stewardship recommends an allocation of $5 billion to retain affordable rental housing, facilitate asset transfers, support water and energy efficiency improvements, purchase land and property—all with the goal of advancing community stewardship.
These proposals and bills can go a long way in supporting community stewardship, and yet come with the reality that if not implemented with equity at the center it risks hurting the same communities that need the most support. In the first round of NSP for example, Baltimore and Detroit relied more heavily on using funds for demolition of abandoned, vacant and blighted properties. Numerous properties were torn down with limited planning focused on an equitable re-development in collaboration with the African-American communities that suffered from years of discrimination and disinvestment. A reimagined NSP must account for these lessons and include racial equity accountability mechanisms that are community-led.
Community stewardship is a necessary part of the long-term response to our housing crisis. It focuses on not only housing but the ground underneath. The extraction of land from its original Indigenous stewards, and subsequently from low-income and people of color, continues to be a tool to maintain racial and economic segregation. Segregation increases inequality in land values, for example in Black and Brown communities land is valued at an average of $48,000 less than land in white communities. By equitably centering people in communities and holding stewardship as a principle, we also have an opportunity to grow wealth in a more sustainable way—for people, and the planet.
Keeping people in their homes and businesses, and affordable housing providers solvent will be critical to fighting the pandemic. Moreover, promoting a just economic recovery, equitable growth of household wealth and providing funding streams for smaller mission-driven Black, Indigenous and people of color led community organizations will help to ensure long-term community prosperity.