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Toward a Community Land Trust in Hamilton

In order to protect and grow the land uses that residents value for our downtown, we have to set space aside now before it is gobbled up by profiteers with little appreciation for our shared vision for Hamilton.

By Allison Maxted and Michael Borrelli
Published March 28, 2014

As civically-engaged Hamiltonians, we know that many regular Raise the Hammer readers go about their daily lives in this city noting the numerous urban features screaming for re-use, better use, or total redevelopment.

In our neighbourhoods we can think of disused plots land, or the odd empty house, its absentee landlord ignoring the tax bill and property maintenance for years in the hope to one day to flip it for a profit.

There is little demand for these properties - the economics that make rundown semis in Toronto sell for half a million are not yet possible here - but we're seeing it start as refugees from the GTA's buoyant housing market find areas around downtown Hamilton a lot like the urban 'hoods they're used to (and at half the cost).

Because we're so close to Toronto, we have an idea what redevelopment and gentrification is going to look like here. This fairly predictable influx of people and capital will help transform the city, but it's also an impetus for Hamiltonians to protect the character of our core and to build the mixed density, walkable, welcoming and well-serviced neighbourhoods we desire for downtown.

In short, it's time for a Community Land Trust in Hamilton.

Hamilton Community Land Trust
Hamilton Community Land Trust

Community Land Trust

A CLT is a non-profit corporation that owns land in the name of citizens and leases it back to social-purpose organizations and individuals in order to help meet needs that are decided by the community. For example: green space, community gardens, parkland and affordable housing.

A CLT can also reduce the red tape that groups have to deal with when accessing shared community assets like community centres or sports fields.

Land trusts are not alien to Hamilton. Our local Naturalists Club runs the Head-of-the-Lake Land Trust and protects naturalized areas along the bay, and groups like the Robert Land Community Association own and operate significant assets such as community centres for the benefit of their local community.

Far from duplicating the government's work on important social goods like parks and social housing, a Hamilton Community Land Trust would partner with groups aiming to compliment the these efforts while potentially shielding them from ongoing costs and liabilities.

Run on a sustainable model, a CLT could bring together a mix of uses for properties so that entrepreneurial pursuits on the land can help subsidize mutually beneficial community uses - think urban farming next to recreational gardening using above-ground beds on old industrial sites.

Protect Valued Land Uses

We'd love to be able to write that the number of possibilities in a city like ours is only limited by our imagination, but of course, it's truly limited by our access to resources. A walk in Toronto's concrete jungle reveals the victory of economics over quality of life - virtually every square foot built up to dizzying, profitable heights (with rents to match).

In order to protect and grow the land uses that residents value for our downtown, we have to set space aside now before it is gobbled up by speculators and profiteers with no connection to our communities and little appreciation for our shared vision for Hamilton.

That's why earlier this year the Beasley Neighbourhood Association put out a call for volunteers to try launching a CLT in downtown Hamilton. With the help of more than 20 committed citizens donating time, money and professional expertise, we now have something we are ready to discuss with our fellow citizens.

Public Meeting

On April 2, HCLT volunteers will be presenting our preliminary observations and ideas to a group of over 120 Hamiltonians, and then holding facilitated breakout tables to get their input.

We want to highlight a few ideas for potential projects where, with the right partners and donors, we can find better uses for downtown land, and protect those uses far into the future.

We also want to pick residents' brains about the other kinds of projects a CLT should be oriented toward, and get their insight on the organization's proposed structure and objectives.

And lastly, we want to connect with those people interested in pursuing this project further.

By the summer we hope to be incorporated, and will have spent half a year making presentations to community groups, agencies and local decision-makers, so the structure will be in place to help a land trust get off the ground.

Looking for Engaged Hamiltonians

We're always looking for more engaged Hamiltonians willing to donate some time, money or skills to help build this pilot, but to succeed, we will also need the public support of Hamiltonians.

We hope the launch will be our first step in building a relationship with residents, and our committed and growing group of volunteers hopes to earn your support to pursue a Community Land Trust in our city.

We apologize, but interest in this event was much greater than anticipated and we've already filled the room at LIUNA (and extended our volunteers as far as they can go), but if you'd like to be on the waiting list, RSVP to allison@hamiltonclt.org.

All materials presented at the event will be available at the soon-to-be-launched hamiltonclt.org, too.

Allison Maxted has recently completed an MA in Planning: Urban Development at the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP). She has acted as a Coordinator for Kitchener's Festival of Neighbourhoods and a volunteer for the Collingwood
Neighbourhood House in Vancouver. Allison is currently working with a team of volunteers to develop a Community Land Trust that will aid the equitable revitalization of downtown Hamilton.

Michael Borrelli is a social researcher living with his family in the Hamilton's North End. He tweets @BaysideBadger.

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By curious (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2014 at 12:00:55

Thank you for posting a thought provoking article. There are a few points in the article that are prompting me to ask for clarification:

1) Has our "common vision" been determined and if so, what is it?
2) Who determined what it is?

Thank you

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By What? (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2014 at 12:11:35 in reply to Comment 99303

1) I would assume they mean a "shared" vision to be created by the trust - i.i. those who become involved in it.

2) The shared vision of the trust will be determined by and evolve through the trust in accordance with the rules governing the trust.

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By Allison Maxted (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2014 at 12:10:25

A very good two-part question. A static common vision is impossible to achieve and no it has not been determined.

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By Allison Maxted (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2014 at 12:24:13

My apologies.. hit send early.

Rather than get into a lengthy theoretical debate about whether a "common vision" is possible at all, let us set that aside and look at the alternative. If there is no attempt to reach a community vision for the future of this city and its core then the community will not have a say in the direction that it takes. It is necessary to have a common voice if we want any voice at all. That vision should never be static and should also be based ongoing conversation.

A lot of work that a community land trust will need to do as a democratically run organisation will be to listen to diverse voices and find the points where we can agree, and steward the land accordingly. This includes building on the work that has already been done in the creation of City and neighbourhood plans while always recognising that these static documents are bound to overlook some voices.

What we do know and what I think we can safely say is decided is that whatever our "common vision" is, speculative land-owners are not in a position to steward the land to that end. By definition a speculative land-owner holds land for individual gain usually at the expense of community benefits.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2014 at 21:25:34

There's something akin to this on the Strike Debt website. Richmond, California has used eminent domain in a novel way: scoop up foreclosed homes in advance of the banks and mortgage interests. It's a beautiful idea.

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