Identify opportunities to expand and scale up community-led housing and development initiatives, such as community land trusts and community benefits agreements.
The aim of this goal is to provide policymakers and other housing stakeholders with a survey of options to address what has been referred to as the three “Ps” of affordable housing: preservation, production, and protection.See footnote 1 Together, the three “Ps” refers to a holistic approach to making housing available and affordable, placing emphasis on not only building new affordable housing, but also on maintaining current housing stock and keeping the cost of rent or homeownership affordable. Importantly, the final prong of “protection” highlights the importance of creating and maintaining community stability and addressing the factors that may lead to displacement, such as rising housing costs and/or physical risks.
This objective provides recommendations for how parishes and municipalities in Region Seven and beyond can facilitate or support community-led housing and development initiatives, for example by passing enabling legislation to create community land trusts, or by providing technical assistance to residents negotiating community benefits agreements. The options offered in this part should be tailored to the unique characteristics of each community. Preserving and developing housing that is affordable to those who are most in need are complex and challenging processes that require significant investments in time, money, political will, and community support.
How to Make Progress on This Objective
There are many examples of grassroots and community-based initiatives that center individuals and communities in setting a region’s housing priorities. The two examples below illustrate opportunities for local planners and policymakers to help facilitate grassroots initiatives while still ensuring that the processes are truly community-centered and -led:
- Providing technical assistance to residents negotiating community benefits agreements (CBAs); and/or
- Enabling the development of community land trusts (CLTs).
Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs)
A community benefits agreement (CBA) refers to a legally binding contract between a private developer and members of a community, in which the developer promises to provide certain benefits and amenities beyond those already required by law. In exchange, the community commits to publicly supporting — or at the very least not opposing — the proposed development projects.See footnote 2 While CBAs do not replace existing government requirements that developers must meet to obtain approval for new projects, they are often used by developers in order to gain additional community and political support. In some jurisdictions, the terms of a CBA can also be incorporated into an agreement between the local government and the developer, e.g., via a zoning commission order, so that local governments can help community members enforce the terms of the CBA.
While there is no standard definition for a CBA, most CBAs include several key features:
- Legally enforceable, either as a contract or as part of a regulatory action (e.g., zoning approval);
- Relates to a specific, planned development project;
- Derives from advocacy by community stakeholders who directly negotiate the agreement, and/or apply pressure through public hearings or a media campaign;
- Memorialized in a written document;
- Engages the developer as a party to the negotiations; and
- Secures community benefits from the developer of a proposed development project in exchange for community support for the project’s governmental approval.
CBAs may vary based on the political, social, and economic conditions present in a particular community. For example, in parishes or municipalities that struggle to attract new development, developers may be less incentivized to directly negotiate benefits with the community, given a higher likelihood that the local government will approve the project even in the absence of substantial community support.
CBAs can be used to secure resources to support community resilience in the face of rapid urban growth and/or declining federal and state aid to state and local governments, particularly for housing and community development. Importantly, CBAs can mitigate negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of planned developments on surrounding communities. Successful CBA can secure targeted benefits to prevent or minimize the unwanted effects of developments, such as gentrification and displacement. Communities have developed CBAs to secure investments by developers in programs that support affordable housing, local businesses, and tenant organizing, as well as requiring the developer to meet certain environmental or local hiring standards for new construction. In exchange, communities may pledge to provide public support of the development projects, such as through testimony to city council or appearing at public events.
While the development of CBAs are, by design, community-led, local governments can play an important supporting role, as described further below under Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips.
Community Land Trusts (CLTs)
An increasingly popular shared equity model is the use of community land trusts (CLTs). A CLT is a nonprofit organization that acquires and stewards land that is held in trust for the benefit of low-income communities, and which can be put toward a variety of uses, including homeownership or rental housing. CLTs are structured to enable greater community control over creating and maintaining the affordability of homes for low-income renters and homeowners.
CLTs secure permanent affordability by separating ownership of the land from the buildings on top of the land, reducing the overall price of the property.See footnote 3 Low-income buyers are then able to purchase the homes built on the land at below-market rate. In turn, residents pay a nominal annual fee under a 99-year ground lease, and agree to formula-based resale restrictions that keep the property affordable in perpetuity.
As part of a CLT’s operations, staff members commonly provide technical assistance that include workshops and other training about homeownership and different forms of housing assistance, maintenance, and other stewardship services to support its low-to-moderate income residents. For example, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust in Richmond, Virginia provides ongoing assistance to residents after their purchase of a home, such as through education workshops on homeownership and maintenance and other services that help residents thrive and stay in the community.See footnote 4
Under traditional models, CLTs are also intentionally structured to represent a diversity of community voices and perspectives. CLTs are commonly governed by a tripartite board of directors who represent: (1) the residents of the leased housing; (2) community members who live or work in the surrounding area; and (3) representatives from local government and/or technical experts who work in the housing industry. The geographic focus of CLTs, its mission-driven approach to developing affordable housing, and a governance structure that harnesses social capital all help to ensure great connectivity between affordable housing decisions and the communities they are intended to serve.
Parishes and municipalities can support the development of CLTs by adopting enabling legislation. Local enabling legislation could including establishing:
- Definition of eligible properties;
- Governance structures;
- Funding sources;
- Tax exemptions; and
- Procedures for the disposition and acquisition of properties.
Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips
When supporting the creation of mechanisms or institutions that help center and elevate the priorities of residents and communities, decisionmakers in local government may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips:
- Provide opportunities to share information and knowledge with the community
- Create incentives to enable or encourage the development of grassroots, community initiatives
- Provide technical assistance to community initiatives
- Create hybrid land banks and community land trusts
These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective, and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships.
It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.
- Provide opportunities to share information and knowledge within communities: Parishes and municipalities that have existing opportunities for public participation for the development of a local comprehensive plan, or other types of community plans, can leverage those processes to work with community members to create a targeted and geographically specific list of their housing and related priorities. That way, affected residents are well prepared to start the negotiating process with developers, when appropriate, rather than create a public participation process from scratch that will take more time and resources. Local planners could encourage people to take advantage of existing planning opportunities to identify priorities that build toward a collective community vision. This could be done before developers start talking about developing a CBA. Building on top of existing priorities can avoid the need to create community consensus or critical mass around objectives later on when a project is already underway, and when there may be less time and resources to harvest ideas for community benefits and amenities. As with many community participation opportunities, the very act of convening for discussions can help build consensus — to the best extent possible — within community groups. Similarly, CLTs provide training, technical assistance, and other forms of ongoing support to its resident members, including on topics like home maintenance and repair, homeownership, and financial education.
- Create incentives to enable or encourage the development of grassroots, community-centered initiatives: CBAs and CLTs are two examples of how communities can create opportunities to build affordable housing and tackle related issues like gentrification and displacement to increase overall resilience. However, local governments can play an important role to create the momentum necessary to operationalize these tools. In many jurisdictions, CLTs are facilitated through local enabling legislation, which can help define eligible properties, governance structures, source of funds, tax exemptions, and the procedures for the acquisition and disposition of property.
- Provide technical assistance to community initiatives: CBAs are private contracts between a developer and community representatives. However, local housing and planning agencies can provide critical expertise to support frequently underresourced and volunteer community members to better understand the fiscal impacts of a development project, or the nuances of housing finance. With more accurate information, community members are able to maximize their credibility and negotiating power with developers. Additionally, by providing specific and measurable terms in the contract (for example, a specific number of units that should be set aside as affordable housing), community members can increase the likelihood that the CBA terms will be implemented and enforced.
- Create hybrid land banks and community land trusts: With the growing popularity of land banks and community land trusts, several jurisdictions across the country — including in Region Seven (see Plank Road case study) — are creating partnerships between land banks and community land trusts to leverage the strengths of each type of organization to achieve the complementary goals of land disposition and acquisition and create affordable housing. As public entities that hold government powers, land banks are able to more efficiently acquire and convey VAD properties than government or nonprofit entities alone (for more information on land banks, see Objective 3.2). While the development of these types of properties is not always prioritized around affordable housing developments, CLTs provide an available — and affordable-housing-focused — market for the disposition of land bank property. For example, in the case of the Richmond Land Bank, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust (MWCLT) plans to set aside at least 25 percent of acquired properties to be developed by MWCLT, with the remaining property to be developed by other nonprofit affordable housing developers. For more information, see Objective 3.2.
Description: An infographic from Build Baton Rouge illustrating the benefits and ownership structure of a hybrid community land bank propsed for the Plank Road corridor.
Credit: Build Baton Rouge, Imagine Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development 93 (Nov. 2019), available at https://buildbatonrouge.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Imagine-Plank-Road_Final-Report_2019.11.06_web.pdf.
The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.