Growing Non-Market Housing Programs With An Eye On Equity

Head shot Shirley Sherrod
Shirley Sherrod, along with other Black visionaries, started building community land trusts for Black and poor people in the American south in 1969. For a little of her story, see this NPQ documentary: The Struggle for the Land: A Story from America’s Black Belt

Advocates and community organizations are calling attention to inequities in the housing market in the United States. The burden of COVID-19 (who gets sick, who has to go to work, and who has lost hours and/or jobs) has fallen more on the shoulders of community members at the lower end of the income scale.

Low incomes are more common among people who are Black, Indigenous and Latinex. And, because of inequities in income, these community members have limited financial resources to manage financial shocks and protect family members from illness. Small wonder then that there is increased interest in community land trusts and other forms of non-market community based housing.

National Public Radio and Shelterforce teamed up to host a webinar with four speakers. Each one is working to make adequate housing a reality for people who have been marginalized in the housing market. The webinar began with individual presentations:

  • Krystle Okafor is based in New York City. She has been applying abolitionist principles from critiques of the justice system to evolve new approaches to develop/acquire, own and manage housing.
  • Gianpaolo Baiocchi has been evolving a proposal to create an independent social housing development authority that can purchase distressed housing, fix it up and pass it on to community non-profits.
  • Roberto de la Riva Rojas, who is based in Minneapolis, has been working with tenants to improve conditions in badly maintained rental buildings. One group has recently purchased the homes they live in from the owner, which they will operate as a co-operative.
  • Bernie Mazyck has been leading a coalition for community economic development agencies in South Carolina. It’s objective: to build networks of support for all kinds of Black-led economic initiatives. There’s been no housing proposal on the table so far, but it’s definitely on the coalition’s radar.

In the second part of the webinar, the speakers responded to questions from the audience. The questions and answers were unscripted, allowing listeners to hear about things the speakers were doing but didn’t mention in their opening presentations.

This part of the discussion also demonstrates some key skills that could help when organizing and building coalitions:

  • The speakers didn’t see eye to eye on what will work and what won’t, but they didn’t engage in “idea-bashing.” They were models for respectful disagreement. They also noted points of agreement.
  • The moderators ensured that all speakers had an opportunity to share their experience and their wisdom. They did this by directing questions to particular speakers for comment. They also ensured that the questions highlight unique aspects of each speakers’ initiatives. This was important to hold the interest of the audience, which included people from all over the United States.

Finally, for people who want to know more about each of the speakers and their work, the landing page for the webinar lists additional resources. To view the webinar and the resources, see at NPR: Remaking the Economy: Social Housing—A Path to Housing for All?