On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The cost of living in Washington, D.C. is on the rise and longtime residents are getting priced out of their homes and neighborhoods.
The Douglass Community Land Trust recently made its first property purchase, an apartment complex in Southeast D.C. The organization is attempting to restructure how neighborhoods fight gentrification.
Ginger Rumph and Vaughn Perry, from the Douglass Community Land Trust, and Yesim Sayin Taylor, the executive director of the D.C. Policy Center, sit down with Kojo to discuss how housing activists are taking alternative approaches to keeping living in the District accessible.
Produced by Laura Spitalniak
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll breakdown D.C.'s sports moment in our local sports roundup, but first, the cost of living in Washington D.C. is on the rise. And longtime residents are getting priced out of their homes and neighborhoods. Now an old idea is being put to use in a new way. The Douglass Community Land Trust recently purchased a 65 unit apartment complex in southeast Washington. This is the first of several planned purchases for the trust, which aims to keep living in D.C. accessible. Joining me in studio is Ginger Rumph, Executive Director of the Douglass Community Land Trust. Thank you very much for joining us.
GINGER RUMPHThank you for having us.
NNAMDIWhat is the goal of the Douglass Community Land Trust?
RUMPHYeah, so fundamentally at its core we are about the right for D.C. residents to stay and not just stay, but also thrive. This is about the creating an identity -- creating and preserving an identity of place and ensuring that longtime residents as well as future generations of District residents are able to stay here.
NNAMDIHow did you become involved with the Land Trust?
RUMPHWell, I'd like to throw that over to my colleague.
NNAMDIWell, let me introduce your colleagues then, because Yesim Sayin Taylor is the Executive Director of the D.C. Policy Center. Thank you for joining us again.
YESIM SAYIN TAYLORGood to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Vaughn Perry is a Douglass Community Trust board member and the Equitable Development Manager for the 11th Street Bridge Park. Vaughn Perry, thank you for joining us.
VAUGHN PERRYSure. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd now you can throw it to your colleague. Here's Vaughn.
PERRYTo answer Ginger's question, so the Community Land Trust came out of the 11th Street Bridge Park's Equitable Development Plan, which is a culmination of 34 strategies that break down between housing, workforce, small business and cultural equity. And the whole intention is around making sure that the residents that live within the one mile radius around the park can continue to stay and thrive in place. And one of the major initiatives that came out of the Equitable Development Plan was standing up a community land trust.
PERRYAnd so about a year ago after doing a lot of community engagement and awareness on what are the benefits of a community land trust, we did a national search for an executive director that could do nothing, but think about like this community land trust every single day. And fortunately we were able to look right in our backyard and find Ginger. And she's been doing an amazing job.
NNAMDIYou said say came up and the term you used was "standup for community land trust." So obviously there was a meeting of some kind in which someone or several people were advocating community land trusts?
PERRYCorrect. So it was a part of the Equitable Development process. We engage with the community over a number of sessions. And one of the things that came out of that session was this idea to standup a community land trust, which could in essence preserve affordable housing in Washington D.C.
NNAMDISo, Ginger Rumph, precisely what is your job on a day to day basis?
RUMPHGreat question. I think we've got four pillars of work that we do. One has been especially over the past year establishing the governance structure of this new community controlled land trust. That is very foundational to the work going forward. It is foundational to the sustainability of the organization. This is a membership organization that will be controlled by residents of the community. And so we've worked very hard to establish the bylaws, come up with the articles of incorporation, think about the committee structure, etcetera.
RUMPHAnother pillar has been around getting units into the land trust. And to date we've got close to 300 units in the pipeline, 65 of which you mentioned. The Savannah Apartments that should be closing on financing in early of 2020, but we've begun to work with the residents there.
RUMPHAnd in fact have brought on one of the resident council leaders onto our CLT board.
NNAMDIExplain for our listeners exactly how a community land trust works.
RUMPHSure. Typically what you would do is separate out ownership of the land from ownership of the property improvement. And that can be a house. It can be rental, home ownership or it can be a small business. We are looking at both along the continuum, being able to preserve the affordability of spaces.
NNAMDISo the community land trust purchases the land.
RUMPHWhat we do is obtain -- we secure via land ownership or other legal mechanisms. We may also utilize a covenant, a deed restricted covenant. In the case of condominiums, for instance, it may not be feasible to establish, because many of them are in fee simple structure. And it may not be feasible to separate out ownership of the land. In that case, you put an underlying covenant on the building and attach deed restrictions to the individual units.
NNAMDISo that the community land trust owning the land can in fact determine what the owner or developer of the those units is or is not able to do.
RUMPHAbsolutely. This is about establishing precedent. It's kind of -- in many ways we like to think of this as reverse redlining and reverse covenants that folks tend to think about. So in many ways the covenants over years and years ago have been -- and still today across this country have been utilized to keep people out. The community land trust is about enabling people to be able to stay in.
NNAMDIYesim, you're familiar with the District's housing crisis in your role as the Executive Director of the D.C. Policy Center. What are the major changes that are taking place in Congress Heights as far as development and what kind of impact is it having on longtime residents?
TAYLORYeah, the city is changing quite a bit and we've seen most of that in parts of the city west of the park also the central parts of the city. But increasingly residents are moving into Wards 7 and 8. Congress Heights is one of those places. What we've seen is between 2000 and 2015 there was a large exodus of African Americans from the city. If you looked at the places where the poorest and the richest blacks lived back in 1980s they were the same census tracks. And if you move in 20 years and look at where the richest and the poorest blacks live, they live really far away from each other, so most of the middle income African-Americans moved out to Prince George's County and other parts of the Metro area. What we've seen in the last five, six years is there's an increasing move of residents from central parts of the city to Wards 7 and 8.
TAYLORAnd there is increasing home ownership for sure, but not the same way in every part of -- each part of the -- Ward 7 and 8 looks very different. Ward 8 has more apartment buildings and it's easier for people to find places to rent. Ward 7 has pockets of single family homes that used to be largely rented by their owners, for example, through vouchers and section 8s, you know, subsidies and things like that. There's an increasing demand for home ownership there. So what we have seen in what used to be the gold coast, 16th Street, moved to Ward 7. And we're seeing similar changes where people are coming and bidding up the prices.
NNAMDIVaughn Perry, you serve as both the board member for the land trust and as a development manager for the 11th Street Bridge Park. A lot of people who live in southeast Washington can look at the construction at the 11th Street Bridge Park and say, we see gentrification coming on its way. So how do you balance the park and the interests of the community? And do you think they can come into conflict with each other?
PERRYSure. And I would put on another hat and it's really just as a Congress Heights resident. And so to start I wouldn't be sitting here with you if I did not see the sincere and intentional engagement that the 11th Street Bridge Park was doing early on to make sure that they were getting the communities ideas. One of the things that we truly believe is that the solutions are in the community and so as I mentioned before this idea of the community land trust literally came from within the community. As we talk about the park, change is coming to our community whether it's the Bridge Park or whether it's the South Capitol Street Bridge or whether it's the MLK Gateway Project. There are a number of different projects that are both coming to southeast D.C. as well as across the city.
PERRYOne of the things that we want to do is to maximize the leverage of the park to bring those resources to the residents to the residents, who have been living there, and I think this approach is much different than how development has been taking place. We're looking to shift it on its head. And one example of that is to date, we have already raised $57 million that has gone directly into the community. You know, that doesn't even add up the money that it's going to take to build the Bridge Park. And so those are moneys that would probably have never been seen the community had it not been for us, you know, the idea of this 11th Street Bridge Park even taking place.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the phones. Here now is Charles who is on Georgia Avenue, which would be in northwest Washington. Charles, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHARLESYes. As a newly resident of Ward 8, I would definitely like to be involved in the project somehow. And are a lot of black people involved in this project as far as the 11th Street Bridge is concerned that lived in the community before? And I have one more comment and question after that.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Ginger Rumph.
RUMPHYeah. Sure to the question of -- one we absolutely welcome your participation. We'd love to have you. Please, go to DouglassCLT.org and that's Douglass with two S's by the way namesake is Frederick Douglass. The composition of the initial board of directors is 15 members, 12 of whom are residents of Ward 7 and 8. So they were drawn from east of the river communities, principally people of color. We have a tripartied governance with means that one third of the members are going to be drawn from CLT properties, one third will be drawn from the general community, and one third are kind of your technical experts, people in the field and, of course, those three can overlap. We absolutely have experts living east of the river.
NNAMDICharles, you had a second part to your question.
CHARLESWell, the other thing I would like to say is about co-ops and cooperative living. And to that point whether it's a co-op or condo, the co-op condo fees, association fees, keep people from being able to get into even co-op or condos at this particular junction. And do you have a solution to lowering those co-op and condo fees?
NNAMDIThat's one of the things I think the Douglass Community Land Trust is trying to avert or avoid, correct?
RUMPHAbsolutely. And there is a perfect intersection between Douglass Community Land Trust and generally speaking community land trust and the cooperative structure. One of the very two important things that the value that a land trust and the Douglass Community Land Trust can bring, of course, is equity, so some capital into the deal, but also there's a value in ongoing stewardship and that is lending technical assistance to the ongoing governance of a condo association or a cooperative. Overseeing the finances, ensuring that there are free and fair elections, etcetera. But that co-op association -- having a land trust involved in the deal necessarily holds down the affordability.
NNAMDIThe Douglass Land Trust -- and thank you for your call, Charles, recently purchased the Savannah Apartments Complex in Congress Heights. Why did you decide to make that specific purchase?
RUMPHSo to be clear our development partner is NHT Communities, National Housing Trust Communities. We are very fortunate to work with them. They're a national developer of housing and have secured and built thousands of units of affordable housing. Our approach has been to work with developers, who have projects underway because we want to -- we need to get to scale quickly, one because time is very urgent.
NNAMDIBecause development is coming to that part of the city.
NNAMDIAnd it's coming fast. Vaughn Perry, what has been the reaction from the community?
PERRYI think in terms of the Douglass Community Land Trust there's been a very positive approach. Once people have had their questions heard, I think initially there were some questions in terms of like what exactly are the benefits and why would I give up some of my appreciation, you know, if I'm looking into this. And so I believe once we are able to sit down and really share with people the fact that the community land trust was birthed out of the Civil Rights era. I was fortunate to just celebrate in Albany, Georgia, the 50th Anniversary of New Communities Inc., which was one of the first community land trusts. And so -- and we have to really just share with people how this idea of a community land trust is a model that's not only built for community to have control, but also for the community to continue to have control of what is going on in their own neighborhood.
NNAMDIYesim Taylor, what is your take on the land trust approach?
TAYLORI think it's really important in preserving affordability. If you remember back in 2014, the book came about how access capital and returns to capital are so high, that wealth inequalities are increasing. This French economist named Thomas Piketty another economist did a deep dive in his work and showed that capital is not how to buy big corporations or big industries. It's all baked in the house of housing. So a lot of those returns like it's the homeowners in this city that are those capitalists that are getting those returns.
TAYLORSo that tells you how important homeownership is in creating wealth and passing that wealth from one generation to another. Recent research also shows that just $1,000 increase in a housing price actually excludes like 150,000 families from having access to that. Ultimately prices are your biggest sort of discriminatory factors. There are all kind of other things that are going on, but people cannot afford to live in this city.
TAYLORWhat I see very encouraging about it is people in D.C. right now look at their neighborhoods look at what's going on in the city. And they don't see what they like. I mean, we see incomes increasing. We see development. But the loss of sort of this increased concentration in poverty, displacement from neighborhoods. We've seen it in the mayor's call for 36,000 housing. We've seen it in the changes made to the comprehensive land with racial equities and affordability incorporated as goals. So projects like land trust are incredibly important in helping those who have been excluded from the wealth creation in homeownership.
NNAMDIThe City of Baltimore utilizes community land trusts. And they've been in place for many years. Do you have any idea how successful they've been?
TAYLORNo, I don't.
NNAMDIBut what do you think the challenges that D.C. faces are -- how are the challenges that D.C. faces in your view different from Baltimore, for instance?
TAYLORThink of the very first example of land trust. It's in a community east of the river in parts of the city where you can actually afford to purchase. And it's far away from the private and public amenities that are actually capitalizing the value of housing. So even the starting point is a great one, but it's handicapped already. And I think this is one important thing, how do we spread these kinds of projects around the city and not just an apartment building? Can we spread it into single family homes or townhomes or condominiums? I think those are the things that we need to think about.
NNAMDIGinger Rumph, is the Douglass Community Land Trust focusing more on residential or commercial real estate?
RUMPHInitially our goal is to achieve a scale of 750 units of housing in the next 10 years. Split approximately evenly between rental and home ownership, but we also are trying to establish work with some commercial properties. And I do want to add that this is a -- the Douglass Community Land Trust while initially focusing east of the river is across the District of Columbia.
NNAMDII was wondering about that. I'm afraid that about all the time we have. Ginger Rumph is the Executive Director of the Douglass Community Land Trust. Yesim Sayin Taylor is the Executive Director of the D.C. Policy Center. And Vaughn Perry is a Douglass Community Trust board member and the Equitable Development Manager for the 11th Street Bridge Park. Thank you all for joining us.
PERRYThanks for having us.
NNAMDII'm going to take a short break. When we come back we'll break down D.C.'s sports moment in our local sports roundup. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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