The Community’s Land

December 4, 2013

“We’re walking up Jane Place, which is this two block street, walking toward JPNSI Community Garden,” says Shana Griffin.

JPNSI stands for Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, and leading me up the street is Shana Griffin, one of JPNSI’s co-founders. “Jane Place was once called Jane Alley.  I think the name actually changed around 1922, but Jane Alley was the street that Louis Armstrong was born on on the other side of Tulane Avenue.”

But this section of Jane Place, just north of Broad Street and one block east of Banks Street is in Mid City, is home to JPNSI’s first project. As Shana talks, she excitedly gestures and her bracelets clink.

“So the building that we’re standing in front of is 2739 Palmyra. This historically was an old furniture store that was converted into an apartment building in 1927.  And this apartment  building will be renovated as affordable rentals. This project represents our commitment to expanding the range of affordable housing options in the Mid City area through this community land trust model.”

In a land trust, a community has ownership of a piece of land, rather than a private individual.

Van Temple, the Director of Crescent City Community Land Trust, which is partnering with Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, explains how land trusts are a lasting way of providing affordable housing. “Typical affordable housing model in the country is that public money — which is usually Federal in its origin — goes into help make a home affordable, and then the strings attached to that money are usually 5 to 10 years long.  And that means, those number of years after that, the strings attached expire, so that home is essentially a market rate home.  It can be sold to whoever at the highest rate.  The land trust model sort of preserves that and guarantees that those are going to be affordable in perpetuity.”  In other words, because the land is owned by the community, the land’s use stays in the community’s control.

“Whatever is on the land will be serving the purposes that the community wants it to serve. So if it’s a nice new rental building — that this will be soon —  then it will be affordable rental apartments into the future, as far as we can see.”

Looking at 2739 Palmyra Street, the first project of JPNSI (Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative) and the Crescent City Community Land Trust, Van Temple describes, how through this land trust model, families will be able to rent affordable home for generations to come. “The basic given that the land trust owns the land, will always stay the same.  So it sort of passes generation to generation.”

Brice White is the other founding Board member of JPNSI. “The current debate right now is always gentrification or no gentrification and we think the land trust model offers sort of another, third path that allows for neighborhoods to improve but doesn’t displace the residents. Gentrification is really  founded on idea of displacing and flipping a neighborhood, and we believe in improving a neighborhood — making it a better place to live for our kids, for our families, for the elderly folks who live on this block.  But we think that basing it in this way with the land trust model where the land is owned by a trust that’s controlled by people who live in the neighborhood that you can actually make a better place to live without displacing everyone.”

From the corner of Palmyra and Jane Place, we see cranes building the new bio-medical district rising above the historic buildings around us. Shana Griffin says there’s a lot of economic pressure on the neighborhood. “There’s one property on Palmyra that sold in 2011 for $60,000 and it was recently on market for $479,000.  Medical district, hospitals, Whole Foods, Broad Corridor.  They’re positive developments, but they can have negative consequences.  We want to mitigate that negativity.”

Learn more about the Crescent City Community Land Trust by clicking here.

Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation.