As affordable housing becomes more and more scarce across the state, a growing movement of community land trusts could be a piece of the solution, and through a new initiative spearheaded by Long Beach Residents Empowered, or LiBRE, a tenants advocacy organization, Long Beach could be seeing its first community land trust in the coming years.
In January 2021, LiBRE established a formation group to lay the groundwork for a local land trust, and in July 2022, this effort, now known as the Housing for All Long Beach Community Land Trust, filed its articles of incorporation.
While community land trusts can take many forms, ranging from green space to commercial development, what Long Beach would likely adapt would be a tenants model, where Housing for All Long Beach Community Land Trust would tentatively purchase an existing apartment or mixed-use building, and lease out its units, while maintaining ownership of the land itself.
As a flexible model that functions as its own nonprofit, community land trusts are intended to ensure affordability and stability for lower-income and marginalized communities.
In recent years, community land trusts have become an increasingly popular initiative, as housing and displacement pressures have spread to historically affordable parts of the state, including Long Beach, the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, said Leo Goldberg, co-director of the California Community Land Trust Network, an organization that supports community land trusts throughout the state.
Particularly since the pandemic, the depths of the affordability crisis and subsequent homelessness crisis have been illuminated even more, said Goldberg.
“A lot of people are looking for innovative solutions, not just status quo programs,” Goldberg said.
Community land trusts have even gotten the attention of Long Beach city officials—on Dec. 9, the city released a request for proposals, which will award $800,000 of Recovery Act funds to provide seed funding, according to Richard De La Torre, a community information officer for the city of Long Beach.
Further details are still unclear, and at this time, no other funds have been earmarked to support a land trust.
A different look at affordable housing
A key distinction between community land trusts and other affordable housing models is the guarantee of remaining affordable for its low-income renters, homeowners, or commercial tenants.
While most publicly-owned housing projects are generally only required to remain affordable for a minimum of 30 years after construction, community land trust properties will never go on sale to the highest bidder, instead becoming a community asset for the long term, Goldberg said.
With a 99-year ground lease, and restrictions on rent levels and resale prices, housing costs are continuously monitored by the stewardship organization to remain affordable.
Based on Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development standards, housing that is affordable costs no more than 30% of a household’s gross income.
Although it is unknown if this would be the standard used to measure affordability in Long Beach’s community land trust, cost will be determined based on funder and lender rules and restrictions, the cost of acquisition and development, and resident input, according to Sylvana Uribe, communications director of LiBRE.
According to Long Beach Development Services data, 43% of households in Long Beach pay more than 30% of their monthly income in rent or a mortgage, and rent has gone up 20% citywide over the past 10 years.
For Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) who are most affected by the shortage of affordable housing and gentrification, a community land trust can provide a real stake in ownership, and an opportunity to participate in community-owned housing, unlike with typical affordable housing models, Goldberg said.
“When we’re talking about BIPOC communities that have been marginalized from decision-making processes and ownership in many ways, and for a long time, that’s a really important part of a community land trust,” Goldberg said.
According to a 2021 survey conducted by the California Community Land Trust Network and researchers associated with UC Berkeley, 80% of California community land trust residents are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and 60% of residents have an annual income of under $40,000.
This is due to community land trusts largely reflecting the low-income neighborhoods that they typically operate in, Goldberg said. Many land trusts specifically seek to address historical racially discriminatory housing policies and narrow the racial wealth gap, and while affordable housing cannot be reserved for people of a specific race or ethnicity, it is typically targeted to lower-income households, which in California, are largely residents of color, Goldberg said.
Apart from maintaining affordable housing (generally with the help of state or local subsidies), many community land trust organizations are committed to supporting upward economic mobility, through providing financial counseling, homebuyer classes and support, and employment workshops and opportunities. About 68% of households who responded to the survey have participated in a community land trust event.
And for many of its residents, community land trusts have proven to improve feelings of economic security.
Of those who responded to the survey, only 40% reported that they felt “mostly” or “very” economically secure before moving into their land trust home, but 76% report feeling “mostly” or “very” economically secure after moving in.
Overall, 60% of residents reported an increase in their family’s economic security after moving to a community land trust home.
Behind the formation process
Land trusts typically stem from community organizing among those who want to address economic and housing challenges, such as groups of tenants or existing organizations like LiBRE in Long Beach, Goldberg said.
Advocates at LiBRE became involved after they were approached by The California Endowment and Southern California Association of Governments to explore the housing needs and potential benefits for Long Beach communities facing housing insecurity. LiBRE also applied and received some funding from the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders for community land trust purposes.
From November 2020 to October 2022, the organization utilized about $45,000 for a housing needs analysis and for filing its articles of incorporation, according to Uribe.
After filing to become a 501(c)(3), groups must then embark on a period of fundraising and evaluating opportunities to acquire property, whether that is existing housing or a development, a process that can take anywhere from a few months to several years, Goldberg said.
LiBRE estimates that its land acquisition costs will begin at $150,000, with additional funds needed as the project progresses to develop possible site options.
But even after a building has been acquired, many properties purchased for the purpose of being a land trust are in need of significant rehabilitation, and construction costs are high in California and have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, Goldberg said.
A growing movement across California
Community land trusts are not a new idea—but the concept is new for Long Beach.
The history of community land trusts in the United States spans back decades—the first community land trust grew out of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, as a means to center community control for Black communities in the rural South.
California’s first community land trust in Berkeley was incorporated in 1973, and they began to pop up more, particularly in the early 2000s, and then again over the past couple of years, Goldberg said.
Currently, there are 29 community land trusts in California associated with the California Community Land Trust Network, and at least six in Los Angeles County, with many more currently in development throughout the state.
Notable land trusts in the region include the Los Angeles County Land Trust Program, a community land trust partnership pilot program initiated by the LA County Board of Supervisors in September 2020, which enabled five established land trusts to acquire, rehabilitate and preserve tax-defaulted properties for long-term affordable housing. In November 2020, the program expanded to secure unsubsidized multifamily housing in areas with displacement risk.
With an initial county investment of $14 million, the pilot program secured eight multifamily properties with a total of 43 residential units, providing stabilized, affordable housing to 110 individuals—95% of whom are people of color.
In Irvine, a city that has become increasingly affluent over the years, the Irvine Community Land Trust, in partnership with the city of Irvine, has expanded to nearly 500 units of affordable housing since its 2006 incorporation—a process that began with start-up funding from the city of Irvine, although the community land trust is now a self-sustaining nonprofit.
According to the California Community Land Trust Network survey, community land trusts heavily rely on bank loans and local government subsidies for capital funding that’s needed to acquire, develop and invest in housing.
But throughout California, there has been a growing interest among officials in exploring community land trusts, and statewide support has been exemplified through the recent passing of legislature, which the California Community Land Trust Network also advocates for, Goldberg said.
On Sept. 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed three of the network’s top priority bills into law: AB 1837, which fights displacement and strengthens community ownership by evening the playing field at foreclosure auctions; AB 1206, which adjusts the taxation of community land trust rental properties; and AB 2651, which extends the welfare tax exemption for community land trust projects during construction.
The organization also championed the creation of a program that was included in the 2021 budget called the Foreclosure Intervention Housing Preservation Program, Goldberg said.
“That’s going to create $500 million from the state housing department for community organizations including community land trusts, to buy and preserve apartment buildings that are in foreclosure or at risk of foreclosure, and preserve that as affordable housing,” he said.
As the state is in the process of implementing the program, funds have not yet been disbursed, Goldberg said.
“We’re hoping to see that money very soon, and we think that’s gonna have a big impact,” Goldberg said.
In the coming year, the California Land Trust Network is looking to support a few more bills with that general mission, including creating a program called the Community Anti-Displacement Program, or “CAP,” which would provide hundreds of millions of dollars for land trusts and similar mission-driven organizations and nonprofits, to buy market rehousing and turn it into long-term affordable housing, although without a foreclosure focus, Goldberg said.
“That would be just a really powerful tool, so our members are really excited.”
Next steps in Long Beach
For many community land trusts, funding the acquisition of land or necessary construction is one of the largest challenges.
Apart from acquiring the land itself, significant funding is needed for long-term sustainability, and similar to other affordable housing models, there is a constant need for investment from the public sector, including local and federal government and philanthropy, Goldberg said.
“CLTs are always hustling to maintain funding for their buildings,” Goldberg said. “When you’re providing housing below market rates, or rental housing, it means CLTs are going to have to be creative about finding funds.”
While community land trusts can be a promising way to address the housing crisis, it is unclear whether they could reach a scale necessary to truly turn around gentrification displacement and the affordability crisis, Goldberg said.
“Without public investment, no housing solution will reach the scale to have the impact that we want it to,” Goldberg said. “They’ll certainly have major impacts for the families directly receiving their benefits, and maybe the neighborhoods they’re working with, but until those resources come in, we’ll have will have trouble making an impact at the state level in terms of the overall housing situation.”
This year, LiBRE plans to begin its education and outreach efforts with the community to assess what exactly a community land trust in Long Beach could look like, with an emphasis on language access, said Gretchen Swanson, LiBRE board advisory member involved in the efforts.
“We started with the idea, we’re investigating it, so we’re starting from zero, we’re not coming in with a building or a particular scenario,” Swanson said.
In a city of nearly half a million residents where about 60% are renters, Swanson speculated that there could be hundreds of thousands of people in Long Beach that would potentially be interested in a CLT, she said.
“The potential is much greater than our capacity,” Swanson said. “The biggest thing is getting a community of people who feel confident in the idea and how they get to participate, because no one’s asked them before, and giving them the tools that they can use to build that.”
After evaluating potential housing opportunities along with a team of experts from throughout Los Angeles, “then we can bring this back to our community and ask them: ‘What of these scenarios are you most interested in?’” Swanson said.
Of its community needs assessments so far, it is clear that Long Beach residents don’t want to move, Swanson said.
“They didn’t really want to change Long Beach per se,” Swanson said. “What they wanted was an investment in the types of things that they see that are done in other parts of the city of Long Beach.”
A community land trust has the potential to be a mobilizing force, although it takes years to organically develop, Swanson said.
“In addition to reducing barriers for communities . . . you’re also stabilizing communities, and ideally, curbing the displacement of communities from their existing neighborhoods,” said Uribe. “It really brings a restorative element to the neighborhoods where folks are currently living, working and want to continue embedding themselves as part of that community.”
Swanson recounted visiting New Orleans recently with other housing advocates, where there were three buildings on one street that belonged to a community land trust.
This changed the entire nature of the street, Swanson said.
“People slowed down, people knew people on the street . . . we were kind of walking in the middle of the street—you’d die here in Los Angeles if you walked in the middle of the street,” Swanson said. “People just knew that this is a place where people live, their kids come out and play, they can ride their bicycles. I know that sounds simple, but we’ve taken that away from many people here in the city.”
Anyone wishing to get involved in the community land trust or stay in the loop about upcoming workshops is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.