Our History

Deep Roots of Community Land Trust (CLT) and East Harlem organizing

There is a long history of anti-displacement organizing and community planning in East Harlem, including among groups that would later help to start/support the East Harlem CLT such as: NERVE (Nuevo El Barrio Para La Rehabilitación de La Vivienda Y La Economia), East Harlem Preservation, Community Voices Heard, Picture the Homeless (PTH), and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB).

The 80s: CLT organizing on the Lower East Side

In 1985, after fighting displacement for 35 years, the Cooper Square Committee on the Lower East Side forges an agreement with the City to let the City develop on vacant land in exchange for the funds to rehabilitate their buildings. The Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association was formed to manage the properties, while the Cooper Square CLT formed to hold the land and safeguard them.

The 90s: Deep roots of CLT and East Harlem Organizing

In 1993, a survey of city-owned buildings in East Harlem, done by the Community Service Society in conjunction with several East Harlem groups, suggests the formation of a citywide Mutual Housing Trust, where local mutual housing associations would be joined by common landholding on a CLT.

2006: Picture the Homeless conducted the Manhattan Vacant Property Count and recommended community land trusts. Download the report here.

2009-2012: Organizing and Inquiries into CLTs converge

Picture the Homeless works with CUNY students and faculty to conduct a citywide study of vacant property, and to investigate 3 neighborhoods that had significant amounts of vacant property, high levels of homelessness, and growing gentrification pressures (the South Bronx, East Harlem, and Bedford Stuyvesant). They conclude that CLTs and Mutual Housing are viable strategies to pursue. Picture the Homeless released a report “Banking on Vacancy: Homelessness & Real Estate Speculation.”

2009-2012: Organizing and Inquiries into CLTs converge

Community Board 11 and the Regional Planning Association release a report on threats to rental housing in East Harlem that suggests the formation of a CLT; and the Columbia University Planning Department conducts a feasibility study with the New Economy Project (formerly known as NEDAP) on CLTs and foreclosed properties.

2012-2013: Forming a citywide coalition (NYCCLI) and East Harlem Pilot Project

Picture the Homeless, and authors John Krinsky, Tom Angotti, and Peter Marcuse host a “convening” at the Ford Foundation to bring together individuals that have been actively working on proposing CLTs or that have previously worked with the model. Attendees included representatives from the New Economy Project, and Community Board 11, among other groups. Four work groups are formed: Education & Outreach, Policy & Legislation, Governance, and an East Harlem Pilot Project. After several more convenings the NYC Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI) is established.

2012-2013: Forming a citywide coalition (NYCCLI) and East Harlem Pilot Project

The East Harlem work group brings together neighborhood leaders supportive of a CLT with core supporters of NYCCLI. Through personal contacts and the Community Board (and District Manager), the pilot project work group includes members from Picture the Homeless, the New Economy Project, CUNY, Community Board 11, UHAB, East Harlem Preservation, Little Sisters of the Assumption, NERVE, the New York City Community Garden Coalition, and a housing developer called Community Assisted Tenant Controlled Housing (CATCH). The first meeting of the East Harlem Pilot Project work group was held February 2012. The work group conducts outreach in target buildings, hosts a convening at Taino Towers, and forms a residents committee meeting in 2012.

2014: Organizing the East Harlem/El Barrio CLT

The East Harlem Pilot Project work group identifies buildings in the TIL program and existing HDFC co-ops as good candidates for buildings with which to start a CLT. (These are buildings where there had already been some measure of resident organizing; where either residents or the City had control over the building; and where real dangers of financial or physical collapse were present or where affordability over the long term was threatened.) It also does financial modeling based on actual buildings, receives the endorsement of the CB11 Housing Committee, incorporates the East Harlem/El Barrio CLT, hires a full-time East Harlem organizer, meets with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and staff as well as the HPD Commissioner and staff.

2015-2016: Gaining Ground in East Harlem and citywide

With ongoing support from NYCCLI and funders, the East Harlem work group and CLT conduct household surveys in target buildings in order to better understand what residents value and criticize in their homes and neighborhoods, and to document their incomes and household situations, all of which is needed to plan for eventual renovations and mutual housing ownership. Profiles are developed for each building to track physical issues, survey completion, governance issues, etc. This information is used to arrange a tour of target buildings with HPD. The East Harlem/El Barrio CLT also participates in a National CLT Network training, conducts building inspections, co-hosts TIL info sessions with the city in East Harlem; and negotiates with the City for property and financial support, while NYCCLI focuses on Education & Outreach with other groups and and policy changes related to the disposition of city-owned property.

What we’ve been doing

Advocacy in the community

In 2017, the East Harlem/El Barrio Community Land Trust and Picture the Homeless organized a “Housing Not Warehousing” Jane’s Walk to highlight our community’s vacant and underutilized community resources that could be providing affordable housing options.

Spreading the Word

Presentations to the Manhattan Borough President’s office and the Manhattan Borough Board by the East Harlem/El Barrio Community Land Trust, NYCCLI, and the Cooper Square CLT raised interest about community land trusts in elected officials and community board chairs in attendance. Click here to view the presentation on YouTube.

Get Involved

Want to be a part of building our community land trust? Become a contributor, organize your building, and join us!

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