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Hilda Solis

L.A. County Community Land Trusts Picking Up Momentum In Preserving Affordable Housing

Today the county supervisors will vote on a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) for unincorporated L.A. County.

Several L.A. County community land trusts (CLTs) have recently celebrated purchasing existing housing in order to preserve it as permanently affordable. These successes were made possible through an L.A. County CLT pilot program championed by County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

The CLT model is somewhat different from the covenants most typically used to set aside housing as affordable. Covenants expire after a set period of time (typically decades), then formerly affordable housing becomes market-rate housing. In contrast, CLTs own the housing in perpetuity, keeping it permanently affordable.

Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust Director of Land and Tenant Justice Kasey Ventura notes that, "Most if not all community land trusts require that residents of the community be part of the decision making process of the land trust" and those residents "make up part of the Board of Directors, thus really drive the direction of the work of the land trust, which can range from preserving housing, engaging in policy change, creating co-ops, and a wide variety of needs that neighborhoods identify."

In late 2020, Supervisor Solis shepherded approval of a motion that funded up to $14 million for a pilot Community Land Trust Partnership Program. The motion directed the county to work with five CLTs - Fideicomiso Comunitario Tierra Libre, T.R.U.S.T South L.A., The Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust, Liberty Community Land Trust, and El Sereno Community Land Trust (partnering with Community Development Corporations) - to acquire and/or rehabilitate at least one property in each Supervisorial District, and to maintain it as long-term affordable housing.

In a written statement to SBLA, Solis noted that, "This program’s intent is to preserve affordable housing units in vulnerable low-income communities and to create opportunities for ownership, especially for residents in the First Supervisorial District and the most impacted and high displacement risk areas."

Earlier this year, Solis celebrated the first property acquired under the pilot program: an 11-unit building in East Los Angeles, purchased by Fideicomiso Comunitario Tierra Libre (FCTL) in collaboration with the Little Tokyo Service Center. Per Solis, the county has also applied to acquire seven tax-defaulted properties in the First Supervisorial District, which Solis expects to convey to CLT partners and the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity. "Our office continues to work closely with CLT’s and our nonprofit partners to identify and secure more properties for acquisition and rehabilitation."

According to Ventura, "There are about 7-8 properties that were purchased through this program, with some still in escrow." The housing is located in Alhambra, East L.A., Harbor-Gateway, Huntington Park, Hyde Park, Koreatown, North Hollywood, and South Central. To date, the total number of units is 43.

Ventura stated that in addition to BVCLT acquiring two buildings in areas facing high risk of displacement, the county program "has allowed us to preserve housing for tenants that range from very low income to moderate income." Ventura also noted that the BVCLT is starting to work with tenants to introduce alternative housing models: "One group of tenants is committed to forming a housing cooperative to become owners of their building after a year of fighting off their landlord who was attempting to evict them in order to create market housing."

The CLT affordable housing model could receive another boost today, as the L.A. County Supervisors vote on another initiative authored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl. The motion, to be voted on at today's 9 a.m. board meeting, would direct the county to develop a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) ordinance that would help facilitate CLTs purchasing housing in order to preserve affordability and curb gentrification. The county TOPA ordinance would apply to unincorporated areas.

Ventura describes the TOPA motion as "granting tenants the first right of offer and first right of refusal." "Essentially, it would give tenants the opportunity to purchase their homes either as an individual or as a collective in order to preserve their housing" and, per Ventura, "allows for these tenants to partner up with other qualified purchasers like affordable housing developer and community land trust to ensure that their homes are grounded in their needs."

"I look forward to continued partnerships with community land trusts to bring even more affordable housing options to residents across the County" stated Solis. "It is through these initiatives that we can address the lack of affordable housing and growing homelessness crisis - through strategic investments in programs that prioritize the community’s needs first.”

For more information on TOPA and how to support it, see the Los Angeles Community Land Trust Coalition TOPA4LA website.

SBLA San Gabriel Valley coverage, including this article and SGV Connect, is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

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