Last year, the death of Freddie Gray in police custody placed his neighborhood in a tragic spotlight, highlighting an all-too common urban misery: epidemic poverty, blighted lots, and shattered homes. Gray’s Baltimore has become notorious as the site of failed “urban renewal” projects, rife with liberal talking points but showing precious little progress in alleviating poverty and joblessness. There’s now a plan to generate change from the inside out, creating community housing as a source of collective healing.
Facing a change in administration in pending elections, activists are pushing a plan before the City Council to devote about $40 million to housing development, not just to fix up vacancies or construct commercial towers but to overhaul neighborhoods through developing Community Land Trusts. As we’ve reported before, the idea would be to establish communally owned property under a democratic governance structure, which allows residents and the surrounding neighborhood to cooperatively manage land and property use.
Baltimore struggles with both massive abandoned vacancies and pockets of gentrification. Residents face tracts of sky-high rents alongside chronically neglected housing stock, dividing wealthy and impoverished areas. Now the Baltimore Housing Roundtable, a coalition of grassroots groups, envisions a plan to curb displacement and rationalize the twisted housing market. It sees joint ownership as a path to revitalizing community oriented housing.
While CLTs are generally associated with suburban development, primarily single-family homes, Roundtable advocates say CLTs fostered by Baltimore’s neighborhood groups can enhance family quality of life and boost economic and civic opportunity.
Through years of gentrification and deindustrialization, the housing market has polarized. Millions of low-income units have vanished, often swallowed by predatory developers. Meanwhile, more than 66,500 households are constantly at risk of eviction due to non-payment. According to the Roundtable’s research published in January, “approximately one-third of Baltimore households were homeless or at risk of homelessness.” Amid eroding tax bases and impoverished schools, political malaise exacerbates urban depression, the Roundtable reports: “Baltimore City officials have offered no housing plan or community development plan that is responsive to those most in need, the poor working class or fixed income families” in the lowest income bracket, particularly in recession-battered black communities.