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KEEPING IT REAL ESTATE- Inaugural Colorado Community Land Trust Conference

Updated: May 18, 2023

As we close out the month of April and the 55th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, it was an opportunity to reflect on where we are today regarding the assurance of equitable housing and land ownership in Colorado. According to the most recent census data published in December 2022, the gap in Black ownership is still wide. More than seven in 10 White Coloradans and a little more than half of Latino residents own their homes. But, only 42% of Black Coloradans own their homes. The trend in lack of growth of Black homeownership is seen throughout the metro area, with Adams, Jefferson, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties showing higher homeownership rates in White communities than in those of color.

BRIC Fund's first conversation about community land trusts happened with the Urban Land Conservancy in 2020 during a screening of Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Beloved Community. The film traces the remarkable journey of New Communities, Inc. and the struggle for racial justice and economic empowerment among African Americans. Following the documentary, we were honored to participate in a panel discussion to explore the power of owning land and the continuing challenges people of color still face in long-term land ownership. Then, a partnership with the Urban Land Conservancy began with the intent to open the doors of increased land and home ownership opportunities within communities of color.

This month, the BRIC Fund was proud to continue the partnership with the Urban Land Conservancy as a sponsor of the inaugural Community Land Trust Conference. You might ask yourself, what is a community land trust, and why is it important? Community land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit organizations governed by a board of CLT residents, community residents, and public representatives that provide lasting community assets and shared equity homeownership opportunities for families and communities. CLTs develop rural and urban agriculture properties and commercial spaces to serve local communities by providing affordable rental and cooperative housing projects. In addition, they conserve land and urban green spaces. However, the heart of their work is creating affordable housing that provides successful homeownership opportunities to generations of lower-income families.

"Even on the smallest scale, owning real estate is a time-tested method to build individual wealth, which collectively benefits communities as a whole long-term," said LaDawn Sullivan, executive director of the BRIC Fund, describing the benefits of CLTs.

The two-day conference hosted over 150 CLT practitioners, funders, and community-led organizations from across the state and beyond. The conference highlighted the work of numerous projects in Colorado and the Denver metro area, such as "the Holly" in Northeast Park Hill and affordable housing projects in the Westwood neighborhood and rural areas like Chaffee County. It allowed participants to learn about organizing, financing, and leveraging the power of land ownership - rooted practices exercised by the formerly enslaved Blacks, who understood that "land is power" and a path to build long-term wealth.

"It was inspiring to hear about the work happening across the state to preserve land and housing affordability," explained conference attendee Mark Marshall, vice president of real estate for Rocky Mountain Communities. "Seeing examples of how the preservation of affordability maximizes the power of land by stabilizing lives and communities and offering the opportunity for wealth creation was nothing less than amazing."

But for the BRIC Fund, the conference was a time to explore how to integrate CLT strategies to progress, strengthen and further fuel the development of Black communities. "BRIC recognizes the importance of 'home ownership' of Black-led and serving nonprofits," said Sullivan. "As a nonprofit, the value in owning your building allows you to leverage the property to ensure stability, sustainability, and growth in services while stabilizing the community's economic force. CLTs will be a part of the BRIC and ULC partnership in our shared vision of strong Black communities."

BRIC Board member Herman White shared those thoughts, "I am honored for the opportunity to attend the conference on behalf of the BRIC Fund," said White, principal portfolio manager and managing partner with The Holleran Group. "The fact that development has always been a space controlled by the privileged, the shared experience not only allowed individuals like myself to understand better as a community how we can influence the outcomes in the neighborhoods we live in and serve. We can empower ourselves to be the change we all seek. I hope that by understanding how to secure resources, we can build wealth in marginalized communities for generations."

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