Housing as a Matter of Justice

For people of modest or moderate means, it’s often hard to find safe, healthy, affordable housing. One group trying to right that wrong is the Southern Door Community Land Trust (SDCLT), a nonprofit organization devoted to housing justice and community engagement.

Formed in 2019 as the Broome County Land Trust, SDCLT changed its name in 2021 to acknowledge the indigenous people of our region, who used the term “Southern Door” for the part of New York we call the Southern Tier, said Hajra Aziz, SDCLT’s executive director since June 2021.

SDCLT is part of the broader community land trust (CLT) movement, which dates back more than 50 years. Run by community members, CLTs own and operate properties, holding them in trust for 99 years. Local residents buy or rent homes on those properties at affordable rates.

A homeowner can accrue some equity in a CLT home, Aziz explained. “But if they were to sell it, it needs to be at an agreed-upon rate that would be below the market value.” The owner could also pass the home to the family’s next generation.

When the CLT owns a rental building, rents are fixed at affordable levels to keep people from being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Owners and renters can also become members of the community land trust, Aziz said. “It works best when people who live in the community and have that lived experience are using their voices to guide and direct where the land trust is going.”

As of late 2021, SDCLT was working to acquire its first property. It was also forging relationships with the Binghamton and Broome County governments that could lead to more acquisitions, most likely through tax auctions. If SDCLT can keep some auctioned properties in local hands, rather than going to out-of-town investors, that benefits the whole community, Aziz said.

SDCLT also conducts several initiatives to engage more members and build their community action skills. One of those programs, the Youth Story Corps, received a $10,000 grant in 2020 from the Community Foundation’s Racial Justice and Equity Fund. An additional $10,000 was granted in late December 2021 for a HUD certified housing counseling preparedness program.

In a separate development, the Community Foundation recently became administrator of the Broome County Housing Trust Fund, created with $480,000 from New York State. This fund offers grants for several kinds of initiatives, such as supporting home ownership for communities that have been systematically kept from owning homes, and improving and repairing low-quality affordable housing.

We hope these efforts, and others to come, will help many more of our neighbors find housing where they can feel truly at home.

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