Modeling the Human Right to Development without Displacement

NESRI partners with grassroots organizations advancing human rights-based equitable development in their localities.

Since late 2013, we have worked with the United Workers and a coalition it anchors, called the Baltimore Housing Roundtable, to advance a community-driven approach to development at the city-wide level. Together with our partners in Baltimore we are building a model for equitable development that works to ensure development without displacement by creating strategies that reduce economic speculation and increase community control.      

Current development approaches increase land values without ensuring communities currently residing on that land receive the benefit of that increased value. Instead, increased land values fuel economic speculation and displacement as housing costs rise and investors take advantage of the changing economic landscape to make a profit.

Equitable development must anticipate this dynamic and ensure that “success” includes “locking-in” affordable property and housing to avoid involuntary displacement of long-time community residents. Community land ownership, through Community Land Trusts (CLTs), is the keystone to our approach in Baltimore, as it can "right size" housing sale prices and rental levels, keeping them affordable forever. CLT’s can also support locally based commercial activity, parks, and urban agriculture.   

The Baltimore Housing Roundtable combines low-income homeowners, renters, and homeless persons with over twenty organizations and activists from housing, law, labor, health, and community development. It developed and launched a three-phased, multi-year campaign with the ultimate goal of creating a vibrant and publicly supported, community controlled “non-speculative” housing sector in Baltimore.  

In January, 2016, this blueprint was released in Community + Land + Trusts:  Tools for Development Without Displacementa report co-authored by NESRI. The 20/20 campaign is a plan to use $20 million in municipal bonds to renovate roughly 15,000 vacant houses into CLT housing, and another $20 million to deconstruct and green thousands of other vacant while employing citizens returning from incarceration. The campaign demanded that bond proceeds be placed in a to-be-created Housing Trust Fund that would prioritize community-controlled housing.

When campaign promises of support by public officials proved hollow, the Roundtable turned to a Citizen Ballot Petition, gathering 18,000 signatures to create a Housing Trust Fund in 2016.  The Roundtable used another Ballot Petition drive in 2018 to secure passage of a transfer tax on real estate transactions over $1 million, which will produce $13 million annually dedicated to the Trust Fund. (The Fund prioritizes assistance to those with incomes below 30% AMI and includes CLTs as a funding priority.).

The City has now committed municipal bonds to the Fund, achieving the hoped-for $20 million annually for permanently affordable housing. During this period, two neighborhoods in Baltimore established CLTs and five others committed existing community development entities to the idea. All seven are now joined in an inter-organizational network, SHARE Baltimore, which through the sharing of information, learning, skills, regional networking and resources, is committed to developing a significant, vibrant, non-speculative housing sector that will exist in Baltimore permanently. The city has also contracted with SHARE and a local non-profit developer to support a CLT pilot project, involving 60 CLT properties spread across the metro area.

With this initial commitment, we now begin the work of building deep and effective partnership between the city and communities to advance equitable development goals. We must invest in this opportunity to build an effective model and practice that can influence development at a city-wide scale and offer a viable alternative to the bankrupt development policies of the last forty years. 

For additional details, contact Peter Sabonis, Director of Legal Strategies.