Community land trusts and the right to land, lodging and labor

In his addresses to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Pope Francis has often spoken of the three T’s: “tierra,” “techo” and “trabajo” (or land, lodging and labor).

As Kevin Clarke, in America magazine, explained:

“The three T’s — or, if you prefer, the three L’s — represent the pope’s shorthand for social and economic rights he considers sacred and non-negotiable. The right to ‘tierra’ refers to land for the substantial numbers of subsistence farmers, mostly Indigenous, denied the security of land rights through centuries of suppression. ‘Techo,’ literally ‘roof,’ is something that should be over everyone’s head. … The final T, ‘trabajo,’ represents a right to engage in work that provides not only a just wage but meaning and financial security to workers and their families.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development program has long been a supporter of community land trusts through its grant programs.

Consistent with the three T’s, CCHD’s community development grants support organizations that demonstrate a commitment to the dignity of the human person. So, how do community land trusts align with Pope Francis’ economic and social rights, “tierra,” “techo” and “trabajo”?

According to Lyn Barnett, president and co-founder, St. Joseph Community Land Trust is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2002 in response to the rising housing costs and the negative impacts of these costs to the broad social fabric, well-being and sustainability of communities around Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada.

Core to the community land trust model is community control of the land for community needs. Reflecting the flexibility of the community land trust model, its programs have evolved since their inception to meet the needs of the community and happen to align well with the three T’s.

— “Tierra” (Land). SJCLT’s low- and moderate-income homeownership program follows the basic community land trust model. SJCLT retains ownership of the land and sells the home subject to a 99-year ground lease.

The ground lease includes a resale restriction that ensures that the home will remain permanently affordable and a provision that the home be the primary home. SJCLT currently has one three-bedroom home and is currently building two two-bedroom and one three-bedroom homes on land being acquired from the City of South Lake Tahoe for $1.

— “Techo” (Lodging): In addition to the low-moderate income ownership homes SJCLT provides, SJCLT is also a partner in the 77 one- and two-bedroom unit Sierra Garden, which are low-income workforce apartments. And it is a partner in the 248 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom unit Sugar Pine Village, which is a low-income workforce apartment complex currently being planned for South Lake Tahoe.

Sugar Pine Village will also include an affordable childcare facility and community hub offering social services for the community.

SJCLT’s Motel to Housing program provides interest free loans to income qualified families with school-age children living in substandard motels to cover the first month’s rent and security deposit — often the most difficult obstacle. This program has enabled families with over 30 children to move from motels into quality housing

— “Trabajo” (Labor). The ability to get and maintain a job for the low- and moderate- income workforce in a high-cost area like the Tahoe Basin is a significant challenge. In addition to SJCLT’s programs to provide affordable workforce housing near to jobs, the community land trust gives further support.

The emergency loan program issues interest free loans to cover emergencies that eliminate the need to go to a payday lender. For example, the program can provide funds to cover a car breakdown that makes it impossible to get to work.

SJCLT’s programs, which have evolved in response to the needs of the Tahoe Basin community, demonstrate how community programs can reflect the pope’s desire to consider land, lodging and labor rights in their work.

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(Jean Diaz is executive director for the St. Joseph Community Land Trust. He is the former executive director for the San Diego Community Land Trust and was a charter board member of the California Community Land Trust Network.)