Community Stewardship


As the Biden-Harris administration implements more extensive COVID recovery measures, the importance of “building back better” has never been clearer. Instead of using recovery funds to return to what was, there is an opportunity to envision something better. This is particularly true in communities most adversely affected by the pandemic’s health and economic fallout; these same communities have been long subjected to intentional disinvestment by local, state, and national stakeholders. One pathway to a better future? Community ownership.

It is no coincidence that community ownership has risen in prominence in the six major US cities where the SPARCC initiative has partnered with local collaboratives, supported by 300+ organizations, funders, thought partners and resident experts, over the last four years. These cities have histories of disinvestment, redlining, and gentrification that make Community Ownership a helpful tool to begin the process of community re-building. The collaboratives’ goals of creating places that lead to equitable and healthy opportunities for everyone naturally aligns with the key principles of community ownership. In 2020, seeing this alignment and recognizing that community ownership strategies, by definition, mirror the needs and personalities of the neighborhoods, we embarked on an interwoven body of work to better understand and foster community ownership. Through this work, SPARCC staff, consultants, and site practitioners learned together, shaped and informed each other’s work, and took a deep dive into community ownership models across the country.

What exactly is community ownership?

Historically in the US, property ownership has been defined by legal, financial, and social exclusion. This reality has stolen Indigenous sovereignty on ancestral lands, created and amplified a racial wealth gap,  kept working people perpetually segregated and politically marginalized, and helped ensure that one of the best determinants of a child’s future is his zip code.

The idea of community ownership is a straightforward concept—a community owns the “thing” (usually property) under consideration. The community then must determine which of the many forms of community ownership fits its needs. It can include collective ownership of land and buildings through land trust and co-operatives; it can also include entrepreneurial and cooperative ownership of the businesses that might occupy them. Community ownership envisions opening the ownership of homes, commercial property, and backyard cottages to the people who have built and who maintain the culture of the community. It also opens a pathway for low-income and people of color to local control of community assets. It contemplates the way that people build resilient networks, expand political power, protect, and elevate shared culture, and seed personal wealth. Click the icon in the bottom right corner to expand for a better view.

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The diagram above is an illustration of community ownership; it is the result of several iterations, many conversations with our local partners, and lots of research. The diagram holds space for ownership in many forms. Moreover, it considers how to make these visions into reality, pointing out roles for information exchange, capital investment, public partnership, and community leadership.

What We’ve Learned

SPARCC partnered with national leaders at the Urban Displacement Project to understand the drivers of displacement through data and lived experience. In the last few years of working together, we have come to see how community ownership might create freedom from the pervasive fear of displacement and desire for a more geographically and financially certain future— a desire that cuts across hot real estate markets and chronically disinvested places.

Level setting and information sharing

We hosted a series of webinars designed to invite experts and community leaders from different cities to share their experience, expertise, and community ownership models:

Striving for efficiency and impact

Through our research partnership with Community Science, we convened leaders in community ownership across the country and determined where to devote research capacity. At the direction of these leaders, CS pulled together (1) a foundational lit review document to help residents and new leaders understand the basics of community ownership and (2) a research document to identify the leading edge of collaborative efforts among CLTs designed to share resources and networks for greater impact.

Federal investment proposal

Developed in partnership with SPARCC sites, housing, community development, and community ownership advocates, the Advancing Long Term Community Stewardship proposal reimagines the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) as a way to stabilize renters and preserve at-risk personal wealth in communities of color. Read more about the proposal here.

Los Angeles CLT investment

A group of five community land trusts and their development partners came together to raise shared operating funds (in the form of grants) and $14M in public investment from LA County for CLTs. The SPARCC staff and local collaborative partners set up systems to formalize these partnerships, manage risk on property acquisition, and provide flexible risk capital to get properties under contract, all paving the way to put the county’s CLT funding allocation into action. Check out the tear sheet here.

Where We’re Going

Our work with community ownership does not end here. We will take time over the next few months to share more about how SPARCC partners are envisioning community ownership in their own communities, dive deeper into key takeaways from our research paper, and more.