August 2020

MACLT’s commitment to racial justice

Madison Area Community Land Trust believes housing is a human right and a necessary source of stability. Black lives matter, so Black housing matters and Black land matters. Community land trusts played a critical role in protecting Black rights to land in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, and we are committed to carrying that legacy forward. We likewise seek to take more land off of the private market and to support people of color and working-class neighbors to keep that land and housing permanently affordable. We invite our community to partner with us and hold us accountable to this mission.

Moment of change

What a moment of change we find ourselves in! As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its fourth month and the Movement for Black Lives pushes for justice and the right to self-determination, we recognize the need for the re-allocation of budgets away from police and toward programming that can support community safety, health, and stability. We align ourselves with the efforts to create a civilian review board of the Madison Police Department (MPD) and celebrate cancelling the contracts between the MPD and Madison Metropolitan School District. We also know that while important, these steps are just the tip of the iceberg of the necessary work toward justice. Police violence is closely related to historical systems of slavery, the financial incentives of private prisons, and the systematic punishment of those in poverty. We see our work at Madison Area Community Land Trust (MACLT) as a piece of the overall effort to reverse the oppressive, profit-seeking logics that perpetuate racial injustice.

Systemic racism in land and real estate

One of the major areas of racial injustice is in land ownership and real estate. African Americans make up 13% of the United States population and own about 1% of the land. Black land loss is estimated to be about 14 million acres in the last 100 years due in part to legal obscurities around title to inherited property, loan denial to black farmers, the increasing acquisition of real estate by investment firms, and sometimes direct intimidation and violence.

Discrimination in urban real estate markets has historically included redlining (see Madison’s historic redlining map) and restrictive covenants that limited where African Americans could live before the Fair Housing Act These practices continue to segregate cities today. Despite Fair Housing laws against discrimination, contemporary practices of predatory and discriminatory lending have kept the Black homeownership rate well below that of the white population. This disparity is a major source of the racial wealth gap between people of color and the white population in the United States. Since the 2008 recession, homeownership rates have fallen for the Black population in Wisconsin.

For those without access to homeownership, the rental market can be intensely oppressive. As wages stagnate and rents rise, households must spend larger proportions of their income on rent. In Madison, more than half of all renters are rent-burdened (paying more than 30% of their income for rent), and more than half of all rent-burdened renters pay 50% or more of their income on rent. Rent-burdened residents can be just one mishap away from eviction, which can be extremely disruptive to their overall stability and can reduce their options for future places to live. Evictions most often happen in neighborhoods that are already segregated, disenfranchised, and under-resourced (see also this synopsis of a study of evictions in Dane County).

At MACLT, we believe housing is a human right, and that homes are a necessary source of stability. Black lives matter, and so: Black housing matters. Black land matters.

Toward community land ownership

On a recent Juneteenth video panel on Black land by House of Ease, cooperative organizer, Ed Whitfield, reminded viewers that “People who own the land are able to extract from us everything we do. They’re sucking out value from everything we produce. [We need] land for life, land for enterprise, a place to be free on.”

Building forward, where should money from police budgets go? What should we as a community be focusing on building at this time? Considering the platforms of M4BL and 8-to-abolition, both of which call for Black community control of land and housing (including through the explicit mention of community land trusts), we see opportunities to take more land off of the private market and to keep it permanently affordable and locally-stewarded over generations for and by people of color and the working-class. As former staff, Zach Murray, of Oakland CLT has said in a recent report, “CLTs are not reparations of themselves, but are a model worth reparating into.”

The first Community Land Trust, New Communities, Inc., directly came out of Black liberation struggles as a project of several collaborators including Civil Rights organizers, Slater King and Charles and Shirley Sherrod as a way to secure tenure for Black farmers in the South in the middle of one of the greatest periods of Black land loss. It was structured as a way to ensure that land cultivated and lived-on by Black people would never be sold for private gain.

CLTs keep land off  the real estate market, permanently in nonprofit ownership. CLTs separate the land from the structures or “improvements” on the land so that individuals and groups can buy or rent buildings on the land. When residents move on, the land and improvements are kept affordable over generations and never resold into the for-profit real estate market.

Since the first CLT was created in 1969, CLTs have been used for many purposes: agriculture, single-family homes, rental housing, cooperative housing, affordable commercial space, playgrounds and parks, community gardens, and community centers. There are now about 275 CLTs in the United States. Madison Area CLT was incorporated in 1990 and keeps the land under 69 single-family homes, a large community garden, an organic farm, and a restored urban prairie. Our limited-appreciation homeownership program allows people to buy a house at an affordable price (usually between $110,000 and $150,000). Upon resale, the homeowner gets the equity they invested in their home plus 25% of the increase in the value of the home. This model “pays it forward” to the next homeowner, who gets to buy an even more affordable house, and the house remains permanently affordable compared to the general housing market. CLT homeowners build equity, often when they would otherwise only be able to rent. Shared-appreciation models also provide new levels of stability and serve a growing number of people of color.

As wages are suppressed and many are out of work, COVID-19 will likely stimulate a long period of unemployment, evictions, and foreclosures.  If more land were owned by CLTs and other community-land models, this crisis would not hit nearly as hard. A 2011 study showed that CLT homeowners experienced foreclosures at only 10% of the rate of the general population after the 2008 mortgage crisis.

After what we saw in 2008—the widening of the homeowner gap, the high number of foreclosures for people of color, the land grab by high-profile investment firms—it’s clear that we need community ownership strategies for land and housing.

What we need now is the transfer of land into community hands. 

Pushing for change and holding ourselves accountable

Now is a time of possibility. 

CLTs can be more than just a land-holding entity. CLTs can align themselves with community planning efforts and other local movements (see the London CLT’s useful guide on neighborhood organizing and the new guide co-written by MACLT staff and MIT CoLab about CLT organizing strategies in North America). Our membership can stretch beyond our homeowners to anyone in Dane County dedicated to our mission!

That said, we cannot push for racial justice when we do not recognize our own implicit bias and the ways we uphold systems of white supremacy. MACLT property, as all property in and around Madison, is located on Indigenous land that was obtained by the forced removal and genocide of the Ho Chunk people to further the goals of white supremacy, profit and control. What kind of role can we play in undoing white supremacy in this context of settler colonialism? What does it mean to be a CLT in Dane County, where the overall population is 84.9% white and 5.5% Black, and where most of the staff and board members who have served MACLT in our 30 years are white? How do we explicitly acknowledge our own racial bias? Call us in and call us out. We are committed to continuing this effort and discussion, and list some preliminary steps we are taking below:

-We know that some MACLT homes have been sold to friends of MACLT residents, and this has been an exclusionary practice.  We now exercise our right of first refusal to our homes to make sure that notice of all resales go to our interest list, such that these interested homebuyers all have a chance for affordable homeownership.

-We are increasing our internal education and public outreach around the role of CLTs in Black liberation movements to bring awareness to our responsibility to our lineage and the racial inequities of the real estate market.

-We are actively seeking partnerships through outreach to organizations led by people of color locally and enthusiastically welcome partnerships with local organizing groups led by people of color.

-We are evaluating our policies and procedures from the perspective of racial equity and inclusion to identify how they  may inadvertently discriminate against people of color.

-We invite people of color to join as members and consider joining our board or committees to bring our mission forward.

We need your help!

These are the moments CLTs are meant for, but we need you involved. We cannot do it alone.

  • What kinds of neighborhoods do you want to have in Madison?  Who do you want to see making decisions about land and housing? Pitch your ideas for partnerships with us: educational events and panels, land acquisition deals, neighborhood organizing, et cetera.
  • Join MACLT and volunteer to be on a committee.
  • Become a sustainer with a monthly donation.
  • Donate property: gift us the land under a building if you want us to keep it affordable foreve, or deed it to us upon your death.
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