Case Study: Oakland Community Land Trust - Oakland, California

The Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT), in Oakland, California, presents an example of how land trusts can help to reduce displacement pressures in gentrifying cities. It was created in 2009 to stabilize housing threatened with foreclosure as a result of the recession and mortgage crisis. Through mobilization of residents and a local community organization, Urban Strategies Council, the Oakland CLT was formed to acquire and rehabilitate properties in foreclosure. Since it was established, OakCLT has acquired and preserved approximately 50 units of housing and stewards multi-use and commercial properties that provide affordable rents for culturally important businesses and grassroots organizations. The City of Oakland has supported the CLT with grant funding and loan financing, and Alameda County has sold tax-delinquent properties to the CLT to steward as community gardens. Oakland CLT’s goals are to provide permanently affordable housing, offer wealth-building homeownership opportunities for Oakland residents, and fight against displacement of existing residents in low-income communities of color. 

Background

The Oakland CLT operates in the City of Oakland in Alameda County, California, East of the San Francisco Bay. Lack of affordable housing and impacts from climate change are listed as two of the biggest resilience challenges faced by the city in its 2016 Resilient Oakland Plan. In terms of climate risks, the city anticipates more coastal and urban flooding as a result of sea-level rise and more intense heavy rainfall events, and more heatwaves, drought, and wildfires. The City’s Resilience Plan also notes the significant economic disparities in the city and how chronic stressors - like poverty, unemployment, and housing instability - make lower-income households more vulnerable to climate impacts and reduce overall community resilience. While a booming technology sector has increased the economic prospects of the city, it has also exacerbated wealth disparities and caused displacement of residents due to rising rents and property values. The plan also notes the significant affordable housing challenges the city faces, noting that between 2012 and 2015 rent on two-bedroom apartments increased by 111 percent, while the supply fell by 59 percent. The city has over 26,000 renters and 9,000 homeowners that are severely cost-burdened (paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing). Communities of color are also disproportionately burdened by housing costs. While only 13 percent of the county is African American, 45 percent renters and 35 percent of homeowners that are severely cost-burdened are African American households, and African Americans represent 54 percent of the County’s homeless population. 

CLT Projects & Activities

OakCLT was started in 2009 to respond to the housing foreclosure crisis caused by the failure of the subprime mortgage market. Between 2007 and 2011 in Oakland, one in seven mortgages went into default, and one and fourteen of those properties were lost to foreclosure, with disproportionate impacts on households of color that were targeted for subprime mortgages.1 

Affordable Housing:  OakCLT stewards 21 permanently affordable single family homes on scattered lots throughout Oakland, which are reserved for families earning incomes of 80 percent of area median income (AMI) or less. In its early years of operations, the OakCLT focused on acquiring and rehabilitating vacant and foreclosed homes and returning them to affordable housing uses for residents. In recent years, the CLT has been working to help renters of multifamily properties purchase their buildings, remove the units from the speculative market, and preserve the units as permanently affordable housing. The OakCLT also provides training to build the skills of at-risk youth in construction and home rehabilitation through its Youth Employment Partnership’s Building Futures program. 

Sustainability & Resilience: One way that OakCLT helps to enhance community resilience is by acquiring tax-defaulted properties and stewarding the properties for open space uses, such as parks and community gardens serving low-income neighborhoods. Parks and community gardens help to reduce urban heat islands, manage stormwater, and increase food security of residents. These properties are also used to support training programs that the CLT offers in partnership with other nonprofits to train young adults in urban farming and food production.

Businesses & Commercial Space: OakCLT is also helping to foster economic resilience by helping to preserve culturally important businesses and nonprofits, which were being priced out of the city as a result of rising rents. OakCLT has purchased and is preserving mixed-use properties that support live-work artist space, community gathering spaces, an Hispanic, worker-owned cafe, and other grassroots and activist organizations.2  

Community-Control: OakCLT was started by the community-led organization, Urban Strategies Council, as a strategy for supporting more community-owned land. The CLT provides assistance to support tenant-organized purchases of multi-family rental buildings, which enhances resident control of housing and helps to reduce displacement. It also facilitates community-control of CLT activities by operating under the traditional CLT tripartite governing board that includes CLT residents, members of the community, and other local stakeholder organizations.

State & Local Support 

Creation of a citywide CLT was first recommended by the Oakland Community and Economic Development Agency in a 2007 report with recommendations on how to address challenges with housing affordability, low homeownership rates, and gentrification and displacement of existing residents. The report recommended the creation of two programs: one to offer Individual Development Accounts and matching funds to help low-income residents save money for homeownership and other financial objectives; and the creation of a citywide community land trust to offer affordable homeownership opportunities for lower income residents.3 The memo also includes a summary of different funding sources that the city could use to support development of CLT housing.

In addition to grant funding and financing for local agencies (described below), Oakland CLT has also acquired lands by purchasing tax-delinquent properties from Alameda County to build affordable housing and to steward as community gardens.4  

Funding & Financing

To help start up the CLT, the Oakland City Council allocated Federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds that were provided to local governments to help address the foreclosure crisis created by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. The Stabilization Funds supported early acquisitions and the rehabilitation of homes facing foreclosure. The City has also received other city grants and loans to support acquisitions. And, in 2019, the Oakland City Council allocated $12 million to create a municipal fund to support community land trust and limited-equity housing in the City. The funding came from passage of Measure KK, an Oakland Infrastructure Bond that called for $100 million in funding for affordable housing and anti-displacement investments, with a priority for households earning less than 80 percent AMI.5  In addition to funding from the City, OakCLT also raises funds from local philanthropies, and has used crowdfunding to solicit smaller donations from individual donors. 

Lessons & Considerations

The Oakland Community Land Trust example shows how CLTs can also play roles in enhancing the economic resilience of communities and helping preserve culturally important business and nonprofit enterprises. OakCLT has helped local nonprofits and community-owned businesses threatened with rising rents purchase and put commercial and multi-use properties into trust. In addition to housing roles, CLTs can help to preserve affordability for business that provide local jobs and services in low-income communities.

 

Publication Date: July 26, 2020

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