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Community land trusts central to urban renewal for the Black community

Published February 22, 2024

From Vancouver to Halifax, new community land trusts are forming in support of affordable housing and other community-strengthening initiatives. Some of the most important are those being led by Black communities as they redress injustices and create their own way forward, grounded in the principles of equity and community.

In Nova Scotia, the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Land Trust formed in 2022.  Originally, this settlement near Halifax was home to a group of 500 Black refugees from the War of 1812. In the 1970s, the community faced land expropriation by municipal and provincial governments.   The land trust was formed to preserve “the cultural heritage and economic prosperity of our neighborhoods, while creating opportunities for Black families and individuals to access affordable housing, economic opportunities, and the tools necessary for building intergenerational wealth.”

Also in 2022, DownTheMarsh Community Land Trust was incorporated in Truro, Nova Scotia to create “thriving African Nova Scotian communities by developing collectively-owned assets”.  Its first project is the acquisition of six properties in Truro’s historically Black neighbourhood called “The Marsh”.

In early 20th century Vancouver, Hogan’s Alley was the centre of the city’s African-Canadian population.  In 1967, the city began leveling the western half of Hogan’s Alley to construct a freeway, which later became known as the Georgia Viaduct.  Although the project was halted by protests, the viaduct spelled the end of the neighborhood. A half century later, plans to tear down the viaduct present an opportunity to redress this injustice.

Hogans Alley Society is a non-profit organization composed of civil rights activists, business professionals, community organizers, artists, writers and academics committed to daylighting the presence of Black history in Vancouver and throughout British Columbia. Part of their work is to form a community land trust, through which a memorandum of understanding was signed with the City of Vancouver in 2022. This sets out terms for the negotiation of a long-term lease for the Hogan’s Alley Block. Already, there is temporary modular housing providing shelter prioritizing Black and Indigenous people with substance use issues. The society also has plans to develop permanent housing, a cultural centre, and spaces for Black-owned shops and artists.

You can learn more about these three Black-led community land trusts in this 2023 webinar presented by the Canadian Network of Community Land Trusts hosted by Cheryll Case, an urban planner and author who penned the ‘Black Futures on Eglington’ cultural mapping study, focused on the Little Jamaica neighbourhood in Toronto.

Co-operative Housing Federation of BC (CHF BC) Chief Operating Office, Michelle Cooper-Iversen, is on the board of the Hogan’s Alley Society. CHF BC and the Hogan’s Alley Society hosted a tour for BC’s  community housing sector staff this month for Black History Month. The tour included stops at the site of the community Baptist church, several murals along the highway viaduct that celebrate community leaders and achievements, and the home of Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother Nora Hendrix, after whom the housing shelter is named.

“I’m inspired and grateful to be on the board of Hogan’s Alley Society,” says Michelle Cooper-Iversen, who is both a board member of Hogan’s Alley Society and CHF BC’s Chief Operating Officer.  “When I joined last July, I was excited to bring [to the board] what I had learned from our own Co-op Housing Community Land Trust model.  I quickly learned that I had more learning to do from this incredible group of individuals.  I’d never before considered what racially and culturally appropriate community housing looks like.  For the board of Hogan’s Alley Society, this is essential for people of African Descent to thrive.”

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