By Hilary Caton
Class was in session Tuesday, Nov. 25 as residents attending the Roncesvalles-Macdonnell Residents’ Association (RMRA) were educated in Community Land Trusts (CLT) 101.
“It’s a new concept for a lot of people and I think it’s going to take a lot of explaining,” said Judy Josefowicz, the chair of the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT), a local non-profit organization.
“We need to focus our messaging and focus our thinking.”
With rooming houses and affordable housing units in Parkdale becoming scarce due to the steady progress of gentrification in the neighbourhood, and with low-income earners increasingly at risk for being pushed out of the area, a community land trust is exactly what the community needs, said Joshua Barndt, a volunteer with PNLT who conducted the presentation to residents Tuesday night.
The CLT concept would allow a non-profit organization to obtain and manage land for community interests. It would also separate the land value from the housing price, which would result in affordable rent prices. The community would be the one in control of how the land is used to meet its current and future needs.
“The benefits of a CLT can vary,” Barndt told the group of about 15 people gathered in the auditorium of Fern Public School.
“It can be sustainable affordable housing, an open space or garden, a community planning space or a local serving business.”
The CLT board would be a mix of one-third community members, one-third users and one-third local stakeholders or experts in the relevant field.
Barndt gave examples of where CLTs have already made significant impacts, such as Cooper Square in the Lower East Side in New York City. The Cooper Square Committee manages 22 buildings under the CLT and manages to keep rent at affordable levels. A studio apartment is $358, while a two-bedroom unit is $553 compared to the $1,800 to $5,800 price range in other apartment buildings in the area.
“There’s no reason why it can’t work right here in Parkdale,” Barndt said.
Talk of a community land trust in south Parkdale has been in the works since 2010 when a report, commissioned by Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC), was done by a group of University of Toronto urban planning students called Beyond Bread and Butter. The report addressed commercial and the possibility of residential gentrification as well as opportunities for developing a community food strategy. Since that report, the PNLT was formed and now has non-profit organization status, which to Josefowicz is one of the many first baby steps to getting a community land trust going in Parkdale.
“We’re trying to just get our ducks in a row, so we can get out there and start fundraising and start getting the money we need to acquire a piece of land,” the chair said.
The challenge with CLT’s is money, she said. The PNLT would have to purchase the land at a market price, which will be expensive. Josefowicz, along with Barndt, admitted there were a few missed opportunities in the past to acquire land for cheap if the PNLT had been established earlier.
“Twenty years ago the housing crisis was still on the cusp of gentrification and the housing prices were a quarter to a fifth of what they are now,” she said.
Housing prices in Parkdale have skyrocketed, with the average price of a home in the neighbourhood costing at least $830,000, but some sell for as much as $2.4 million, according to Realosophy Realty Inc. Brokerage. This is despite the majority of the population being low-income earners and the working poor.
“It’ll be a challenge to get that first piece of land, but once we develop a business model that will make it sustainable, we can roll whatever income we make from that land into the next project,” Josefowicz explained.
According to the chair, the PNLT will be choosing what the potential land use could be used for based on the community’s needs and that will be determined through further consultation with residents in the area, but if an opportunity arises they will seize it.
The next step for PNLT is a feasibility study to be conducted in March, then the board’s first official annual general meeting to be scheduled by October. According to Josefowicz, the board is currently working on a strategic plan with its five committees; program planning, communications and community engagement, governance, fundraising and research to get the ball rolling.
In the end however, the idea of CLTs isn’t just for Parkdale, Barndt.
“We would like to see other neighbourhoods follow in our footsteps,” he said. “We’d like to have land trusts across the city.”
The article is taken from InsideToronto.com