For decades community land trusts have enabled local communities to create affordable homeownership opportunities by providing low-cost access to land held in a commons while enabling private ownership of the homes on the land. Our proposal is to adapt the community land trust structure to serve as a national vehicle to amass purchased and gifted lands in a Black Commons with the specific purpose of facilitating low-cost access for Black Americans hitherto without such access. In short, creating one piece of a Black Reparations Movement.
The community land trust is a tested and known entity for holding land in a commons while at the same time facilitating leaseholders ability to build equity in homes and other improvements on the land. Donors to a Black Commons would not want to see title to land simply given over to individuals who might then quickly cash in on its value, placing the land again in the open market. The assurance that a one-time donation, or one-time purchase, of land would contribute to the long-term wealth of a Black Commons is an important reason for employing the community land trust model.
At the same time, the community land trust model is flexible. Leases are contracts and those contracts can be written to cooperative enterprises as well as to individuals. The rich tradition in the Black community of farming cooperatives could be encouraged and suitable sites prioritized. The underlying feature is that the land itself, and with it the land’s value, remains in the Black Commons.
The business of a Black Commons would be to acquire land by gift or purchase, develop a plan for use of that land, and identify a leaseholder for each site. Much of this can be in cooperation with local partners and local community land trusts, but board members will need a fundamental understanding and fluency with these processes and be able to direct staff to carry through on the potential.
The creation of a Black Commons to hold land for Black Americans, and the leasing of that land with equity rights in buildings and other improvements, can provide some justice to a people systematically excluded from ownership opportunities.
At the same time, a highly visible initiative to form a Black Commons can be a powerful tool to educate a broader public about the enslavement of land held in private hands that led to inequities in the first place.
By returning land to a Commons through the vehicle of community land trusts, a basic injustice in our economic system begins to be addressed. All need access to land to live, work, play, and create goods for one another. When land is privately held, it means owners benefit unfairly from the need of all for land. An imbalance occurs. Wealth accumulates disproportionately with all the related consequences.
It is time to boldly address these issues at their core.
Learn more at http://www.centerforneweconomics.org
Greg Watson is Director of Policy and Systems Design at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. His work currently focuses on community food systems and the dynamics between local and geo-economic systems. He has spent nearly 40 years learning to understand systems thinking as inspired by Buckminster Fuller and to apply that understanding to achieve a just and sustainable world.
Susan Witt is the Executive Director of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, which she co-founded with Robert Swann in 1980. She has led the development of the Schumacher Center’s highly regarded publications, library, seminars, and other educational programs, which established the Center as a pioneering voice for an economics shaped by social and ecological principles. She is deeply engaged with the history and theory of a new economics and its implications for the transformation of our relationship to land, labor, and capital.