The Second Year of the Journey to a Community Land Trust (a letter to a funder)

The formation of the first and only Community Land Trust in Detroit has been rocky. We began 2 years ago when Detroit faced the largest tax foreclosure sale in the history of the country. Today, we own 15 properties of these 8 are currently occupied.  Of those 8 families, 4 households participate in working on advocacy issues on a regular basis.  Of those 4 families only 1 family had done any kind of advocacy work prior to us taking on the CLT and that was work with an organization known as " We the People" around water issues.  The families that participate now, help with food justice work, do some phone bank calling on the CBA(Community Benefit Agreement Ordinance) and participate with calling City Council and help with the election process. This includes not always the head of the house but family members.  We participate in our own Town Hall Calls (calling all our families at a scheduled time to inform them of issues that are affecting our community and how we can get involved.)  These calls have included the Detroit Peoples' Platform's Linda Campbell to inform the families and to encourage them to participate with phone banking.  The act of participating in social justice issues is not required, we see it as the sense of creating community and building on the future involvement in our community.  Folks are not forced into social justice service nor is it suggested that they do so, it is offered.  

We have identified another family and if funds permit, we will be opening up another of the properties and making the repairs to get that family moved in by February 2018.  Houses that are closed up are in serious repair states and the funds to invest in them have not been available.  We hold community education sessions often and have folks that want to participate but until major funds comes in, we can not make the repairs, so we move on a slow pace.

The only family that we have lost was one year after the formation of the CLT.  The house in question had been left to a brother and sister both in their 50's and long time substance abuse individuals.  Both unemployed with the brother receiving SSI income only.  We managed to get the sister employed and she kept the job for about 4 months. Then she quit work, said she didn't want to take the bus to work, she wanted to work in the neighborhood.  We contacted another relative, a Detroit police officer, to see if other family would help us work with them on the substance issues, while we attempted to get other employment for the sister within her neighborhood.  This involves the CLT building relationships with folks who will hire people that we recommend, even if they come with issues. After months (almost a year), the problem of the substances impacted our liability on the property as well as how much responsibility we assume with knowledge of what was going on in the property.  All of which is documented in our lease which prohibits the use, and sale of illegal substance.  We again worked with relatives to attempt to find them other living arrangements, which worked for the sister but not the brother.  If was decided that we needed to remove the brother with legal action or we would be complicit in the operations of a "crack house". There is also the need to protect the safety of not just other families on that block, but the staff of the SOHCLT as well.

Of course, we face criticism about removing families from CLT properties since our mission was to "save" families. But let's be real.  We did not have the opportunity of "vetting" these individuals and there are many cases in Detroit that property has been left to family members and the circumstance are not all wholesome. We certainly have to protect the organization and its staff from situations that could be harmful.  We stayed in this situation longer than we should have.  We are currently dealing with a man in a property, he has not paid any rent in over 13 months, he is unemployable.  We have an attorney (who we arranged to volunteer to help) working with him to try to get his benefits but he has many mental challenges.  We have not evicted him. And are trying every day to keep him in the property.  In addition, we pay for his water bill and get food to him, with nothing coming in. The only reason this is even reasonable to try is in the beginning he was paying $120.00 per month and he did pay and participated with the CLT.  So he tried and for the past year his condition is deteriorating.  But we are still working with him. 

I can't speak about the families that left before we had an opportunity to talk to them, I can only speak about the families that we have been successful in working with and have given the CLT an opportunity.  We have taken on challenges that no other CLT is taking on.  And with no help. Frankly, remembering the objective of a CLT is to provide permanently affordable housing with a guiding principle of 99 years.  Most of the CLT's in the country are not addressing the issues of 30% and below AMI (area medium income) but are focused on 50% and above.