Queens residents gathered for a town hall on Tuesday, March 8, to support the Queens Community Land Act, a set of bills that will provide community land trusts (CLTs) and other nonprofits with the resources to create and preserve affordable housing, commercial spaces and other community needs. 

Queens residents at the town hall on Tuesday, March 8. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado

What is a community land trust?

“CLTs are basically a way for the community to own land and control land in the city. We are taking it off the market and making it permanently affordable,” says Memo Salazar, co-chair of  the Western Queens Community Land Trust. 

CLTs hold the “deed” to a piece of land. They do not own the building or space the land is on or have anything to do with day to day operations — they only hold the deed. 

“This means that if at some point in the future, all the people that started the project have gone and the people that are there are like ‘Why don’t we just sell this and make a lot of money?’ They can’t because the deed locks them into keeping it permanently affordable land because the CLT holds the deed.” he says.”We are kind of like the conscience.”

CLTs own the land and ensure that it is used in a way that benefits the community. CLTs can be made up of many different kinds of people, groups of tenants, nonprofits or both. Together, they can decide how to best use the land and keep it affordable. When land is owned by a CLT it’s taken off the speculative market so it’s never flipped or sold for profit — essentially CLTs help neighborhoods stay affordable. 

Western Queens Community Land Trust seeks to create a CLT in a city-owned building in Long Island City, modeled above. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado

What is the Community Land Act?

New York City’s land is expensive and due to its affordability crisis it’s difficult for CLTs to buy land. Instead, policies can put land directly in the pipeline of a CLT. The Community Land Act is a package of four bills that will do exactly that. The Community Land Act includes:

  • Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (Intro 196)

This bill will give CLTs the right to make the first offer when a multifamily residential building goes up for sale. If a landlord decides to sell the building, CLTs will be able to make the first offer. It will even the playing field for CLTs or nonprofits to preserve affordable housing.

New York City owns a lot of land, land that is usually sold to developers who make a lot of profit off of them. This bill will prioritize CLTs when the city disposes of public land. Rather than going to developers, CLTs will have the first option. This bill will help ensure that public land will be used for what the community needs.

  • Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Resolution (Res 38)

This is a state bill that will give tenants the right to collectively organize their neighbors and make a first offer on the building when the landlord decides to sell it. Tenants can organize themselves or partner with a CLT that already exists to make sure they have the opportunity to buy the building when it is sold. This bill gives more power to the tenants. 

  • Abolish and Replace the NYC Lien Sale

A NYC Lien sale is a legal claim against a property for unpaid taxes. If someone is behind on taxes or has not been able to pay them, the property may be subjected to a lien sale  which means the property can be put up for sale. This bill would abolish that.

“If someone is behind on their taxes and they want to stay in their home, they should have the right to work with a CLT who could acquire the land. The [person] could remain the owner of the house and continue to live in it by transferring the land,” says Will Spisak of New Economy Project, co-coordinators of the New York City Community Land Initiative. “When they decide to sell or they pass on, [CLTs] will make sure that the house stays affordable and it’s not preyed upon by investors or house flippers.”

Will Spisak explaining the Queens Community Land Act. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado

What can you do?

If you are in support of the act you can take the following actions:

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