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Program Profiles

Assessing Public Land Inventory

New Housing Marketplace – New York City

As part of New York City’s 10-year New Housing Marketplace Plan, created in 2003, the city assessed the potential of all underutilized, publicly owned sites to incorporate affordable homes on the premises. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development worked with a wide range of city and state agencies to acquire underutilized and surplus sites for affordable housing development. These sites include a historic public school in East Harlem and other Department of Education properties, underutilized parking lots owned by the Department of Transportation, a former hospital on Staten Island and surplus land at a Brooklyn psychiatric hospital.

Montgomery County Land Inventory – Montgomery County, Md.

Since the late 1980s, Montgomery County has developed a comprehensive county land inventory and facilitated mixed-income housing development on multiple county land holdings.

To maximize its opportunities for using public land to help address local affordable housing needs, the county executive and the county council have endorsed a strategy in which, whenever possible, affordable housing will be included in the development of county land. All capital improvement projects or county agency plans to redevelop or dispose of county-owned land are required to assess the potential for affordable housing as part of the site’s redevelopment and to present this analysis to the county council. (A similar assessment is required of the potential for child care facilities.)

Additionally, the county council has passed legislation that expresses a preference that at least 30 percent of the housing units on public land are affordable. Proposals from county agencies for the redevelopment of county land that would involve less than 30 percent affordable housing are subject to greater scrutiny from the county council.

Lastly, most county-owned land is owned by a single agency: the Department of General Services. A chief exception is school district property. Single ownership has aided in the compilation of a comprehensive inventory of county-owned land and ensured better coordination among agencies in its development.

For more information, contact Jay Greene in the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

MAssets – State of Massachusetts

The Office of Real Estate Management in the Massachusetts Division of Capital Assets Management (DCAM) maintains an inventory of all state-owned real property, including property identified as surplus, in the MAssets (Massachusetts Assets) database. Users of the database can find out which properties have been declared surplus and a variety of details about each property such as the location, responsible agency, acreage and the square-footage of any structures on the land.

Encouraging Development of Public Land

Chapter 30B – State of Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the Chapter 30B procurement process allows local governments to sell or lease publicly owned property at below-market value if they disclose the market value and the transfer achieves a valid public purpose. Many towns, including Concord, have used Chapter 30B to sell, or transfer via a 99-year lease, surplus properties for as little as $1 for the development of affordable homes.

This process allowed for the creation of the Elm Brook Homes, a housing project that provides 12 affordable, deed-restricted homes in historic Concord. The town of Concord transferred the land for these homes to the Concord Housing Trust for $1.

Outside Section 548 – State of Massachusetts

From 2003 to 2005, Massachusetts used an expedited process called Outside Section 548 to facilitate the reuse of public land. Outside Section 548 allowed properties to be sold or transferred by the Department of Capital Assets Management (DCAM) instead of requiring separate pieces of legislation to approve the redevelopment of each state-owned site. Although some opportunities for community feedback were still in place, the elimination of individual legislation for each sale substantially reduced the barriers to transferring surplus publicly owned property.

The perception of Outside Section 548, however, was that it eliminated local control and community input regarding land uses. It was therefore allowed to sunset. This example highlights the importance of preserving opportunities for community input even while the disposition process is expedited.

Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Amendment Act – Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.’s Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Amendment Act of 2014  requires that all new multifamily residential developments on city-owned surplus land include at least 20 to 30 percent affordable housing units. The exact level of affordability depends on the site’s location; the percentage rises to 30 percent for sites within a half-mile of a Metrorail station, within one-quarter mile of a streetcar line or within one-quarter mile of a Metrobus Priority Corridor Network route.

The law allows for property to be transferred at less than the appraised value, and the city may provide additional subsidies to ensure that affordability requirements are met.

The mayor may waive or reduce the affordability requirements as necessary, but only under certain circumstances. These include the appraised value of the site being insufficient to support affordable housing in light of all other available sources of public funding for affordable housing, or the disposition of the property enabling the financing of a “significant public facility.”

Half of for-sale affordable homes must be affordable to households earning less than 50 percent of area median income (AMI) and half affordable to households earning up to 80 percent of AMI. One-quarter of the rental affordable homes must be affordable to households at 30 percent of AMI, and three-quarters to households at 50 percent of AMI.

For more information, contact Andrew Trueblood in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

Ordinance 12394 – King County, Wash.

A King County approved in 1996, states that any surplus parcels that are suitable for housing should be sold or leased for the development of affordable housing. Each year, the surplus property list is updated, and suitable properties are offered for sale to affordable housing developers. Factors considered in determining suitability of public sites include topography, zoning and availability of utilities. In its first examination in 1997, King County found that 52 out of 750 surplus county-owned parcels had housing development potential. By the beginning of 2007, the ordinance had generated 400 new affordable housing units, including 170 units in the Greenbrier Heights development in Woodinville.

California State Code 54220-54232 (Sale of Disposition of Surplus Land by Local Agencies) – State of California

This piece of California’s state code gives first preference for transfers of publicly owned land for the development of low- or moderate-income housing. The code applies to surplus real property held at the state or local level and requires that the entity acquiring the land (through lease or purchase) make at least 25 percent of the development’s units affordable to lower-income households (80 percent of area median income) for a period of at least 55 years.

In Oakland, the code has facilitated the development of affordable multifamily rental homes, such as the 18-unit Bishop Roy C. Nichols Senior Housing Complex on the site of a former fire station and scattered site single-family ownership homes on surplus parcels that resulted from street widening.

Surplus City Property Ordinance – San Francisco, Calif.

In 2002, the City of San Francisco amended its Surplus City Property Ordinance to require the transfer of underutilized or surplus property to the Mayor’s Office of Housing for the development of affordable housing, particularly housing for the homeless. Examples of agencies subject to the policy include the departments of public works, public health, libraries and parks and recreation.

Properties that are suitable for housing development are to be sold or leased to a nonprofit for the development of affordable housing. Properties that are not suitable for housing development are sold for private development in order to generate financing for affordable housing.

The ordinance has led to the creation of 150 affordable homes as of 2015, including 111 apartments for formerly homeless families and veterans. City staff is now leading the adoption of a broader Public Sites Development Framework to increase the supply of affordable homes on publicly owned land. Some of the ideas being considered include increasing focus on developing land owned by enterprise agencies and schools and increasing the amount of mixed-income development allowed on public land in order to leverage private funding.

One of the limitations of the San Francisco ordinance is that it places the responsibility for determining which properties are underutilized or surplus with each individual city department and does not audit departments or provide incentives for turning over property for use as affordable housing. Additionally, only two of the 15 sites donated to the Mayor’s Office of Housing to date have been suitable for housing development.

For more information, contact Teresa Yanga in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

Community Land Trusts

Champlain Housing Trust — Burlington, Vt.

The largest and most well-known community land trust in the United States is the Champlain Housing Trust (CHT). It began life as the Burlington Community Land Trust (BCLT) in 1984 and joined with the Lake Champlain Housing Development Corporation in 2006 to become the organization it is today. CHT currently manages 2,200 rental apartments and stewards 565 owner-occupied homes across three counties. It is far and away the largest community land trust in the United States. While most CLTs are unlikely to reach such a large size, Champlain provides an example of how successful the CLT model can be as a large-scale affordable housing program.

CHT’s predecessor, the BCLT, was created during now-Senator Bernie Sanders’ tenure as the mayor of Burlington. It was developed by the Sanders’ administration as part of the City of Burlington’s efforts to curb the loss of affordable housing throughout the city. Some of these early efforts targeted Burlington’s poorest community, the Old North End neighborhood. Here, the BCLT acquired and rehabilitated rental housing, redeveloped a brownfield site, and created over 75,000 square feet of commercial space for community services like day care, senior services, health care and legal aid.

In addition to its property management activities, CHT also provides homebuyer education, financial counseling and loans for housing rehabilitation.  The scale of CHT’s activities in its service area is significant. CHT’s stock of 2,765 units of affordable housing is greater even than the number of federal units in Burlington, and the organization continues to expand. The scale of its success is unique among CLTs, but it demonstrates the feasibility of the community land trust in terms of maintaining a large-scale program, as well as the importance of municipal support.


City of Lakes Community Land Trust – Minneapolis, Minn.

The City of Lakes CLT (CLCLT), founded in 2002, has its genesis in a working group of nonprofits in Minneapolis. The members of the working group (a range of affordable housing organizations and other stakeholders) spent a year looking at the problems that faced the communities of South Minneapolis. As part of the solution to the problems they identified, the working group incorporated the CLCLT. The trust currently administers 204 units of permanently affordable, owner-occupied housing, but this is only one part of their work. City of Lakes has also developed community building activities that extend beyond housing, including a small loan program called the Opportunity Fund and a community-led art project, “This House is Not For Sale” (more on this project is available here and here).

The Opportunity Fund is a program that makes small loans (less than $500) to CLCLT homeowners, their spouses or partners or their children. The main purpose of these small loans is to “assist the recipient in working towards a goal that would further their ability to create wealth or build assets for their family or better the community.” Recipients have used the funds to pay for things like study materials, exam fees and job training. This form of assistance helps CLCLT build community in a much broader way than it would otherwise be able to with a singular focus on affordable housing. Community members who receive these funds are not only provided more stability in their housing, but they are also able to improve their overall quality of life.

The commitment to community development is not limited to supporting personal development. Recently, CLCLT supported a public art project by two of their residents that engaged with the entire community in a very direct way. “This House Is Not For Sale” was an art project comprising a series of public events at different houses owned by CLCLT members. These events included the installation of sculptures inspired by traditional “for sale” signs, a poetry reading and a communal dinner. One of the central messages was the restoration of the houses into homes: each of them was a foreclosure before the current owners purchased them with CLCLT’s help.  In this way, the project celebrated the value of creating a connection between a community and its housing. The artists and the participating community members worked to make that connection visible and active through art and the experience of sharing a meal.

City of Lakes CLT has made a point of extending their support of community well-being outside of the home. Their work provides not just stable, affordable housing, but also gives CLT homeowners a chance to improve their own situation. Other community land trusts also have elements of community engagement, but CLCLT’s Opportunity Fund is particularly notable in its goals.


T.R.U.S.T. South LA (TRUST) – Los Angeles, Calif.

Originally known as the Figueroa Corridor Community Land Trust, TRUST was created in 2005 as part of the community benefits agreement attached to the L.A. Live development, which required the developer to include funding for community-based development as a condition of the development’s approval. A coalition of community organizations, led by the Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice, negotiated these benefits. As part of the agreement, $2 million was set aside for the creation of a community land trust. South Los Angeles has a history of marginalization, and the ongoing expansion by the University of Southern California (USC) and the expansion of the city’s light rail system has put increased pressure on the neighborhood. TRUST’s mission of working with the low-income community to “transform the built environment and social conditions in South Los Angeles” is meant to mitigate displacement of the neighborhood’s residents as a consequence of these projects.

TRUST’s largest housing project to date is the acquisition of a 2-acre, 28-unit multifamily development. The Rolland Curtis Gardens was purchased by TRUST with its partner Abode Communities in 2014 after a year-long, tenant-led campaign. The Gardens is located one block from USC and is also directly on top of a light rail stop, making it not only affordable but extremely accessible.

TRUST is also embarking on a project called the Community Mosaic, designed to counter another wave of speculation pushing into South LA that is driven by the increased development in downtown Los Angeles. The Community Mosaic project is a drive to purchase single-family homes and build smaller additional units on the lots, creating not just a stock of affordable housing but increasing the density of the neighborhood.

Since its creation, TRUST has embarked on a number of programs that serve various dimensions of its community’s well-being. In addition to the Rolland Curtis Gardens project, TRUST has participated in transportation activism like CicLAvia and Ride South LA, it has advocated for improved transportation infrastructure in its neighborhood and it sponsored the art-based activist project Free Lots. These projects have all been pursued with participation by the community that TRUST serves. The membership of TRUST’s board is currently 80 percent local, low-income residents, with two seats held by representatives from allied organizations.

Oakland CLT – Oakland, Calif.

The Oakland CLT (OakCLT) was started in 2009 with a mission of “combatting community deterioration and expanding housing and economic development opportunities for low-income residents.” The creation of the CLT was a response to the high concentration of foreclosures in the communities in and around the city of Oakland. The number of default notices in Oakland in the first three quarters of 2007 was already greater than for the entire year of 2006, and these notices were highly concentrated in ZIP codes in East Oakland. Subprime lenders were also more active in minority communities, where many brokers took advantage of limited-English speakers or senior homeowners seeking to refinance. In response to this, the Urban Strategies Council, a broad-spectrum poverty policy organization that has been operating since the late 1980s, worked with the Oakland branch of ACORN to develop a response. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston (along with Champlain Housing Trust, Dudley Street is one of the most well-known CLTs in the country) was also involved with OakCLT’s development and contributed its knowledge of community engagement and land ownership.

OakCLT received $5.25 million in funds from the first round of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program in 2009. It used about $3 million of these funds to purchase and rehab 18 single-family homes. It is currently working with the City of Oakland to use the remaining program funds to support the purchase and conversion of multifamily buildings into Oakland’s first permanently affordable housing cooperatives. OakCLT is also currently working with Alameda County and other local organizations to acquire several tax-delinquent properties, some of which will be converted into urban agricultural space. The others will soon feature new housing built by OakCLT in collaboration with Youth Employment Partnership, a local organization that helps at-risk youth develop marketable job skills. OakCLT has also been approached to help develop affordable commercial spaces for local nonprofits that are being priced out of their downtown Oakland offices.

One of greatest challenges facing OakCLT is the pressure of the Bay Area real estate market, which has reached unprecedented levels of unaffordability. In July of 2015, an anonymous donor to the San Francisco Foundation made a $34 million contribution to “scaling proven solutions” in various communities throughout Oakland. OakCLT received $2 million from this and used the large majority of it to acquire properties. Finding funding to compete with the private market has proven difficult, and is likely to remain so until the market cools or until much more significant funding sources can be found.

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