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INTERVIEW: Broome County Land Trust Aims For Equity In Homeownership

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — In Broome County, approximately two-thirds of occupants own their homes, according to a 2017 study by the county's industrial development agency. The rate of homeownership, however, varies throughout the county: less than half of homes in the City of Binghamton and Village of Endicott, two largely urban parts of the county, are owned by their occupants.

Meanwhile, rates of homeownership top 85 percent in some of the county's more rural municipalities, including the Town of Barker, the Town of Binghamton and the Town of Maine.

Nationwide, the gap between Black and white homeownership is greater than it was in 1960.

Beginning in 2020, a group of county residents began to look to another model of homeownership to change that: land trusts.

The Broome Community Land Trust is currently working with the Southern Tier-based Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow, which is acting as a fiduciary until the land trust finishes the process needed to become a registered non-profit. Funding for its operation will be developed through grants that focus on affordable housing programs.

Hajra Aziz was recently hired as the first Executive Director of the land trust. She spoke with Jillian Forstadt from WSKG’s Housing Desk earlier this month as part of WSKG's Juneteenth celebration.

They met outside the NoMa Community Center in Binghamton to discuss how the land trust also strives for racial justice.

Land trust two-way JUNETEENTH


JILLIAN FORSTADT: The Broome Community Land Trust aims to buy land in Broome County, where homes will be kept affordable for lower-income families to rent or purchase. The group's goal is to provide future generations with affordable housing and the wealth that comes with homeownership.

Hajra Aziz is the Executive Director of the Broome Community Land Trust and joins us now. Welcome, Hajra.

HAJRA AZIZ: Thank you. Good to be here.

JF: Can you first explain what a community land trust is and how it works?

HA: So a community land trust is a non-profit organization designed to operate within a community, run by community members and additionally other professionals to make housing affordable for 99 years. So instituting that equity, basically, for very long periods of time and hopefully closing the wealth gap through homeownership, property ownership.

JF: Seeing that the housing market is very focused on the individual consumer, why should the community take up this issue together, in a community-centered way?

HA: Well, I believe that the community should take on this issue together in a community-centered way because of the fact that individual focus pushes many folks out of that opportunity because of what’s required to own a home. Some folks are not in that position, and so if we work cooperatively together we can develop this way to where we’re holding each other up.

JF: Race-based discrimination in housing has long been documented, from racially restrictive covenants to financial discrimination that continues to bar people from mortgage loans, and that especially affects Black and Brown people. How do land trusts address and work to undo that history?

HA: Land trust works to undo that history through making sure that land, home, property is affordable to underrepresented community members, which are largely Black and Brown folks. The way that that is done is through offering the community members an opportunity to have ownership in their community. And I think fundamentally, with that ownership and kind of working together to be able to pass down generationally, that that is how it would undo those things.

JF: And how have your own dreams of homeownership changed over time?

HA: It’s definitely altered a lot overtime. I would say in my younger years, coming from a poor community—historically poor community—that homeownership wasn’t even something that I really dreamed of. With the jobs and what’s available to folks in certain communities, it’s not really a reality. But as I matured and grew and had the opportunity to access different networks and education, I was able to understand why that was, and it wasn’t of my own accord. It wasn't something that I had done to myself. And so that is what I would like to help other community members that have historically been put behind the starting line understand that it was designed in such a way and this is what we can do together to change that system.

JF: And the land trust also offers youth programming. How does that fit within your mission?

HA: I - the first thing that I think the way it fits in our mission is that it offers an opportunity for our young people to develop their leadership skills, professional skills, different ways that they can become invested in their community and understand ways that they would like to give back. And so we don’t want to just kind of train our young people in ways to go out into the world and work, we actually want to give them something that’s tangible and we want to give them an opportunity to feel invested in where they live, and so that's the fundamental reasoning for the youth programming we want to offer.

JF: And why is owning the land rather than owning the property so beneficial to the community and this goal?

HA: Land ownership is the foundation to equity, and so, again, historically Black and Brown people have been locked out of owning land and so if we own the land where particular buildings and or other services are operated, we have more of an opportunity to hold onto our resources and power within the community. And then that land would then be passed through generations. And so that racial equity, that generational wealth, all of those different aspects can be positively impacted by actually owning the land.

JF: Okay, thank you Hajra for joining us.

HA: Thank you so much.