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The Community Land Trust as a Highway Environmental Impact Mitigation Tool

Steven C. Bourassa

Novembro 2005, inglês

The proposed Newtown Pike Extension in Lexington, Kentucky, has the potential to cause significant displacement of low-income residents. Following Executive Order 12898, which was signed in 1994, federal agencies have been required to consider environmental justice impacts of their policies and activities. Highway planners in Lexington have crafted a mitigation strategy that includes a community land trust, which is intended to provide permanent protection for the low-income community of Southend Park. Most, if not all, of the possible alternative strategies do not guarantee that housing will be affordable in perpetuity and thus would only postpone disruption of the community and displacement of its residents.

Although the community land trust is clearly the best option for maintaining housing affordability and community cohesion, the idea must overcome some significant hurdles if it is going to be useful as an environmental impact mitigation tool. One problem is selling the idea of communal land ownership to African-American and low-income households. Not only does land ownership have even more symbolic importance for African Americans than it does for other Americans, it is a particularly poignant issue for low-income African Americans who, like their ancestors, have not been able to participate in the American Dream of homeownership. In this regard, the land trust idea probably needs to be presented as a stepping stone, and land trusts need to make certain that they are maximizing investment returns to homeowners while also meeting their other important objective of maintaining affordability.

Another hurdle concerns renters rather than homeowners. Renters are eligible for only limited relocation subsidies, which in many cases will not be enough to cover the cost of the new rental housing to be provided by the community land trust. In many cases, these renters are not eligible for existing subsidy programs. This means that, in the context of environmental impact mitigation where low-income renters are going to be displaced, community land trusts must be designed to generate enough revenue from other sources to subsidize rents for residential tenants. This underscores the need for careful business planning to ensure that likely expenses, including rental subsidies, are matched by revenues.