Community land trusts could provide more affordable housing in the province, according to a panelist who spoke at a Black community meeting in Cherry Brook.

“From my reading, and from those I’ve talked to, governments at both the municipal and provincial level are pretty enthusiastic about community land trusts,” Kevin Hooper, the social development and partnerships manager with United Way Halifax, said during a meeting last week.  

“I don’t know that they’re entirely interested in community land trusts for all the community support benefits that come along with it. They’re really interested in it as a way to get affordable housing built. As long as you set yourself up to give government confidence, I think there very likely could be community investments in community land trusts to make these things happen.”  

Hooper was the sole white panelist among Black panelists from Beechville, Hammonds Plains, and Truro at the meeting, which was advertised as ‘What Could Community Land Trusts Look Like for Preston Township?’  

Holding land in perpetuity  

There are currently two Black community land trusts in the province: one in Hammonds Plains and one in Truro.  

Curtis Whiley, who helped found the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Land Trust, described a land trust as having a board where one-third are community members at large, another third is made up of residents or business owners renting properties from the land trust, and the final third are stakeholders or investors.  

He said that kind of board structure provides an equal balance of power so communities are involved in what happens with how the land is used.  

“For example, a community land trust may hold land in perpetuity, but it may decide that it wants to divest property and make sure that its residents actually own their parcels of land,” Whiley said. “That isn’t out of the question. It’s what the community decides is the best strategy for the trust.”

Hooper added that holding land in perpetuity “gives the community a certain kind of insurance over what’s done with those assets.”  

“They’re not going to be sold off to the private market at any point in the future; they are held and used for community purposes forever,” Hooper said.   

Although the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Land Trust currently doesn’t own any land, Whiley talked about the ways they’re going about getting various properties in the community.  

Finding the definition of affordable

Lynn Jones, who founded and is chair of Down the Marsh Community Land Trust in Truro, said they own some land in the Black neighbourhood in Truro known as The Marsh and are working to acquire more.  

Though Hooper said he believes the government is motivated by affordable housing rather than community support benefits, from Jones’ perspective, it all connects.  

“The community got displaced because we had flooding issues, poverty, different things,” Jones said. “Most of the people owned their own homes then got turfed out of the community and couldn’t rebuild as their houses aged or got flooded. So, the developers moved in real quick.”   

A meeting in Cherry Brook to discuss community land trusts. Credit: Nicole Johnson

Jones said many of The Marsh’s former residents moved into rental properties outside of The Marsh.  

She described what was once an abundant Black neighbourhood — one of three historical Black neighbourhoods that made up Truro’s Black community — as now being home to merely two Black households with no children, just seniors, herself included.  

“We have social problems and ills that we never had when we were all together in our community,” Jones said. “And we don’t have so much of what we had before.”  

Jones said one of the main goals of the Down the Marsh Community Land Trust is to provide homes for former residents of The Marsh and their descendants, recent African immigrants, as well as other African Nova Scotians.  

She said there are other logistics they’re still working out, including determining what counts as “affordable” housing.  

“What’s their [definition of] affordable? What’s our Black community [definition of] affordable? Totally different,” Jones said.  

‘Collaboration is where it’s at’

Danielle Jackson and Carolann Wright, who are residents of Beechville, were also part of the panel.  

Wright, who works for Strategic Initiatives and Capacity Building with the Halifax Partnership, said her community has worked with the city to reacquire land in Beechville that was lost over the years through taxes and people selling to developers.  

“Over the past five years the community has worked really hard to recover properties within the community and also expand its boundaries to almost its original establishment,” Wright said. “The community, probably by next year, will be six times larger than it presently is.”  

“And we’ve been able to effectively change policy in terms of how that’s done. So, when we talk about it, it’s like we’ve done that, so every community can do that.”  

Jackson said Beechville community members have worked collaboratively with all three levels of government, as well as developers, who she said advocated on the community’s behalf and took time to educate them on the various procedures and processes.  

“We also look to Upper Hammonds Plains because they are the leaders when it comes to the community land trust,” Jackson said.  

“What we have learned is that collaboration is where it’s at. While we’re over here working on the community benefits action plan, we got Upper Hammonds Plains over here working [on the land trust], then when we sit together collectively it makes it easier for all of us and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.”  

‘A real opportunity with community land trusts’  

Hooper said that by working together, communities like Upper Hammonds Plains, Beechville, and Preston can “build capacity to leverage the strength of the whole in order to realize each community’s goals and aspirations.”  

“There’s a real opportunity with community land trusts coming into the picture to start reframing that,” Hooper said. “Redefining for the municipality, for the province, how that needs to work to be sure that investments in housing are going to benefit a community in the long-term, not simply for a short-term contract as we’re seeing now.” 

Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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