Next City : Using Queer Power to Stem Gentrification

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When finding an affordable place to live seemed fanciful, these organizers formed a collective called Queer The Land and purchased housing together.

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Next City
Join Lucas Grindley, executive director at Next City, where we believe journalists have the power to amplify solutions and spread workable ideas. Each week Lucas will sit down with trailblazers to discuss urban issues that get overlooked. At the end of the day, it's all about focusing the world's attention on the good ideas that we hope will grow. Grab a seat from the bus, subway, light-rail, or whatever your transit-love may be and listen on the go as we spread solutions from one city to the Next City .

Episode transcripts

Straw media. This is Lucas grimlyfrom next city, a show about change
makers and their stories. Truth is, there are solutions to the problems of
pressing people in cities. If you'relistening, I hope it's because you want
to spread good ideas from one cityto the next. City housing prices are
out of control, so are therents. In February, the Senate Banking
Committee actually summoned a handful of everydaytenants to testify about what's happening here.
Is How senator shared Brown introduced thewitnesses. They all have one thing in
common. Investors see their homes isnothing more than an opportunity to squeeze on
a little more profit, no matterwhat the cost to people living there.
Are Speakers represent the experience of millionsof residents who obviously can't be here.
Also, their stories are often overlookedby the investor who take their rent.
We need to hear those stories.We need to hear what our family and
friends in neighbor's face each day sothat we'll be able, so that we
can tackle our housing challenges in away that will benefit not primarily Wall Street,
but that will benefit renters and homeownersand people in our communities. As
we've talked about before on the show, Wall Street is buying up homes at
a never before seeing pace. That'sone reason prices are going way up,
but the bigger problem is the systemis tilted in favor of the rich and
powerful. To buy a house,it's easier to be a corporation than a
community. On the show today agrassroots collective called Queer the land and Seattle
is an example of community power.Queer the land has managed to acquire a
large property that will be used asaffordable housing and community space. There's is
one of those stories that we needto hear if we're ever going to create
housing that benefits communities. Our reporterat next city, Emily Nanco, originally
covered this story. Well, therewas a need for housing for this group
of Queer folks in Seattle, butdeeper than that, there was a real
desire for autonomy. So how canwe own, design, control the housing?
How our community needs housing? Sothat was the deeper question that started
this project. And what did theydo as the first step? Did they
just start coming together and having meetingsof like minded people? Yeah, there
was, you know, very grassrootsmeetings that were happening, and the thing
that impressed me was the group didn't, have, you know, formal nonprofit
training. They didn't, you know, have a grant writer, they didn't
know even how much money they wouldneed to, you know, eventually own
a property. But it was justbringing together like minded Pete Bulk, coming
up with a really clear vision andnot compromising on it, and then just
getting the word out. So theywere really great with outreach what they needed,
what they were working toward, andthen the pieces ended up coming together,
albeit it was a very long andcomplicated process for them to eventually purchase
and move into a home. Thecollective first began meeting in five years later
in Queer, the land closed ona property. It is a twelve bedroom
former boarding house that is now beingrenovated into affordable housing and community space.
Yeah, I mean I don't wantto sugarcoated in any way, because they
were very, very upfront about howdifficult the process was, and I a
quote that resonated with me was thatthe home buying process is not designed for
collectives. It is certainly not designedfor queer collectives, who have been marginalized
cut out from the housing industry,and so they were facing that every step
of the way. So the visionwas there, the determination was there,
but the actual processes we have inplace for buying a home cannot meet the
needs of a radical collective looking to, you know, do something different with
property. The city of Seattle recentlylaunched its equitable development initiative, which is
helping collectives like where the land toget off the ground. They actually are
doing some really interesting work in Seattle, giving grassroots organizations money to really determine
what they want to do in thecity with this funding. So they were
able to get some seed funding fromthe city to get started and then they
had kind of a really interesting opportunity, and that a very large house that
had been used by an organization wasin foreclosure and it needed to sell to
another organization. So because they hadgotten the word out so deeply a what
they were looking for, they gotconnected to this opportunity kind of by happenstance,
and so they were able to focuson one property as opposed to being
in the traditional real estate market.Can you talk a little bit more about
the equitable development initiative and your othercoverage? What other ways is it being
used? Absolutely, I've actually writtenfor next city quite a bit about this
initiative in Seattle and the thing thatreally strikes me is the vision of giving
community organizations funding and a lot ofautonomy to do what they need with it
and really following the lead of communities, as opposed to setting up strict RFPS
and asking for funding for specific typeof project. The vision of this was
really let's fund organizations and what they'realready doing. So it's just such a
direct way to have an impact.So it's been used in a lot of
different initiatives. One other thing Iwrote about for next city is a project
called the black and Tan Hall,and that is also a really long grassroots
UH initiative to have some property ownershipand this was a derelict building. I
believe that the community sort of camearound to create a community hub that would
sort of be an alternative economy culturalspace and had been working for years to
improve it with limited funding and support. Um and the city came through with
that initiative and was able to reallyfund that project to help get it over
the finish line. I'm just amazedthat there's a city fund that is supporting
collectives in this way. It's amazing. That's the thing. They really are
supporting some radical kind of groups andgrassroots groups that are less formal than a
lot of the groups you would seeget funding through the city. Traditionally the
city gave that for them to buildcapacity builder organization. Then when it comes
time to actually purchase the house,the city, through the equitable development initiative,
gives them two dollars. Can citiesdo this in other places? Could
this have happened without the city?Did happen better because the city was there?
You know, this is not aformal nonprofit. This is not like
a group that's been in the neighborhoodfor twenty years doing x, x x
amount of things. Uh, thisis a collective that came together and had
a vision and it were very clearabout how they had been pushed out of
this vision of homeownership and why itwas important for them to have it,
and the city believed in them andgave them the money to do it and
they've been able to take that andcreate really a model. I believe you
do not see really models for queerhomeownership in this way in many cities.
So yes, cities could absolutely dothis in other places. I think it's
a deeper question because housing and landprices are out of control and the solution
is not to have the city providingcollectives the money to meet an insane housing
market. I mean, I thinkthe deeper issue is our housing market is
exclusive, our housing market has pricesthat most people cannot afford anymore, and
certainly not a collective such as queerthe land. But the deeper question is
how do we radicalize, you know, our our property ownership system and make
it actually inclusive and affordable? Andthat's the question every city in America is
facing right now. The organizers whocreated queer the land came from two different
collectives that had seen how housing instabilityaffected their own community. It didn't feel
them that local government or non profitswere responsive to the needs of queer people,
so they joined together and pioneered theirown solution. As Emily Nanco says,
it wasn't easy. After the breakwe will speak to two organizers from
queer the land. Welcome back tonext city on the show. Today.
A collective called Queer the land haspurchased a twelve bedroom home. It will
serve as low barrier housing and communityspace for Queer people in Seattle. LC
is the operations and developing coordinator atQueer the land. She talks about queer
the land as not only an exampleof a community exerting its power and buying
property, but also as an exampleof a community taking care of itself.
Yeah, I mean I think thatthat's like a queer politics, right to
take care of your community, andoften communities by choice because of circumstances in
our lives, whether that is actuallydisplacement from our country, from our you
know, our own like usually ethniccommunities or religious communities, right, separation
from our blood family because they don'tunderstand us, or some people might feel
like their family hates them. Andso as we get older and we have
more freedom, we're able to chooselike our community and really dependent on one
another. And we know that whenthat foundation is unstable or, you know,
is deteriorating, right, then there'slike where what else do we have?
So we try to Um really valueand really take care of one another.
It's, you know, just afoundational principle. We don't throw people
away, right, we hope peopleaccountable, we try to show up in
love and you know, we're notlike perfect, like in terms of quidling,
like as an organizing collective and peoplecome in and out. But Um,
outside of the collective, I feellike the rare community is still really
strong in terms of, like,if you need something, we will provide
it, even if we had afight, or even if you have a
disagreement or even for like, Idon't really get along with that person right
it's like we're all still trying tolive this existence. We all need help
and we all know that. We'vegone through different struggles and the queer community
is like solid for that. Theydecided to create queer the land as a
collective to push for the mission ofclaiming our own space in Seattle and addressing
houselessness. I think the goal alwaysfrom the beginning, was to get either
a house or just a physical locationland, to be able to house folks
inexpensively and also have community organizing space, art space, just gathering space for
qt Pok folks Um that was inexpensiveor free, because, along with neutriplication,
is not just about living space orhaving access to affordable house, is
also having access to cultural spaces,political spaces, religious spaces. That was
our goal and also to be ableto provide food and education. When I
came here I was just trying tofind community and just get more integrated into
the queer community here. What madeyou say the community, the sense of
purpose. Probably a duty and infriendship and a duty to community and people.
Duty is really like a really bigpart of where I'm here. Part
of the Vision for this house isto serve as transitional housing. No Room
will be over six. Yvonne Andabaleyais a program manager for Queer the land.
She knows what it's like not havingreliable housing. Same question for you,
Vana. What attracted you to quitthe land? Well, honestly,
I was had a temp because Itook a year and half from organizing because
I just was super disenfranchised and justfelt like no one cared. So what
drew me was just like the abundanceof food. I was super broke and
in like low income housing and justfeeling like I needed support and like funds,
but just again, support and communityaround Um. That just made me
feel Um, uplifted and more oninside. It was like a slow process
to join. So like I wasaround, but I don't think I joined
and like was committed for a fewmonths. And what made me stay was
just that, you know, likeit. It's nice to see folks who
have something that they're passionate about andthey're taking time to create a structure and
they want to focus on relationship building. So that's kind of why I stayed.
Plus, you know, Um,I think my own relationship with just
being displaced, being in just likethe domestic violence situation and just having to
move and not really having the resourcesto move and having to move into like
a house with folks, which wascool at the moment, but then having
a fire and having to move intolow income housing and how difficult that was,
having to like, you know,honestly lie about what I um just
like lie on my paperwork and thestress that it caused to Um live there
because it's actually not great. Um, I can't move up in my career.
I can't Um if I moved downor if I move up, then
I have to leave because I maketoo much money. And then if I
moved down then, you know,I can't afford my bills or anything.
So I just felt like I wasstuck. When the queer the landhouse is
finished, it will be a placeto get unstuck. I asked L C
what will happen when all the renovationsare finally complete. In terms of usage,
it would be a low income shortterm housing opportunity, and short term
housing for US means two to threeyears. We'll have about eight bedrooms in
the home. Two of them havethe potential to be a like a family
apartment style living. Will have residentialspace, so obviously like kitchen and study
and library and living room and allthose kind of gathering spaces, and three
full bathrooms one half bathroom. Butwe'll be, you know, utilizing the
upper part of the house for thatresidential living and cooperative living, using the
backyard space again, like for gardening, harvesting, teaching classes, you know,
parties, Cook Out, celebrations.Um. We have a pantry that,
you know, we stock with notperishable food items, but we also
have a freezer that we provide likemeat and other things that need to be
refrigerated. Um, so we'll stillcontinue that. We also have an apothecary
where we have herbs and other resourcesfor people healing healing things. And then
the bottom floor, probably on theEast Coast and call in the basement,
Um, is like the community space, and so we'll have space for art
while space for lounging and, justlike rest Um, will have a kitchen
that's open to people to, youknow, use people don't have their own
kitchen or access to food. Willhave washer and drier for people that are,
you know, free. We willhave community space where people can,
like we're organizing space. People canrent it out and have their meetings there,
have an event there. Will alsohave space for kids, kind of
like a coworking co existing space rightwhere we're able to be creative adults that
also have our children there right andour families, and will have a studio
that people can run out as wellto record things like this podcast. But
yeah, just we wanted to beall around community space for people in,
a learning space and a space forpeople to come to just be their authentic
solves. A sense of duty toa chosen family and a duty to your
community has inspired the organizing that's happeningat queer the land. That's what drove
them to overcome significant barriers and acquiringthe house. You know, it's still
really hard because we're you're not reallygetting the funding that of their traditional straight
had our own mainstream groups get.So how did queer the land go about
buying the house. I know itwas a multi year experience. I'm asking
on behalf of people who might bethinking, yeah, I'd like to start
a collective with people who agree withme and go out and purchase a house.
What should they know about those years? So what I'll say is that
it doesn't take it. Typically itdoesn't take as long as it did for
us. What I'll say is alsoto get a lawyer. Get a lawyer.
So, like, you know thehistory and you know we've always wanted
a house, um, but itstarted with them, these folks Um,
emailing us about applying to get ahouse and writing a letter of interest,
and so we did. wrote abeautiful letter. So no wonder why they
picked us. It is incredible.And so we ended up going to meet
them for pizza in the central districtand talk to them and they liked us
a lot. They were expressing howsad they were and how they were just
exhausted. They cried a lot.So we thought it was gonna be a
thing that was done in March.It was not. And then, Um,
we realized it was more complex.You know, one of our goals,
once we figured out a whole bunchof things was to become our own
land trust. Queer the land isnot, as of today, operating its
own land trust. To get thedeal done purchasing the home ment, queer
the land had to work with analready established land trust called Evergreen Land Trust.
But the collective's goal is ultimately thata queer community does take direct ownership
of the land and property via itsown land trust. That level of autonomy
is an important part of the community'sgoal. You can't just like own a
house as a collective of people.Um, there are, I believe,
to people who had to sign,you know, all of the documents and
contracts and be the name that ispurchasing the house. But Um, Evergreen
Land Trust holds the title. Itis a workaround, right, Um,
and we could have, you know, we still will or could, I'm
depending what the collectives vision is.Have our own land trust, right,
because quickly and is not a nonprofit. Right, we were founded too,
and this also might change because withina bigger system, within the United States,
it's just like makes it really difficultto be a collective, quote unquote,
and not a nonprofit. Um,but every green land trust is a
five or one, c three,right, just like how we have a
physical sponsor, a person that holdsour money. We can't, we don't
have any access to the money unlessyou go through this entity that is responsible
to the government. So, Um, it is a workaround and but it
also gives a space and time toget the house ready, have access to
resources, like Ivana said, allof the classes, the support, Um,
the knowledge behind cooperative living to beable to then become a land trust
when we're, you know, ableto make that transition for ourselves. After
the break we're going to hear anotherexample of how a land trust can be
used to build community power. Welcomeback to next city. In an earlier
episode, we reported on the workof Fanny Gooseman Ortiz in Los Angeles.
She goes door to door helping peoplewho are facing eviction and organizing support for
a community land trust. So howdoes that knock on your door contribute to
a community land trust? In aperfect world, how would this evolve like?
You're going your door knocking, you'reexplaining what the communityland trust is,
you're telling people they have to bea protagonist, and then what would ideally
happen? That they would somehow buildup this community land trust. Um,
so if they live in my community, they become members Um. We are
partner with our sister or community powercollective Um, and they usually, like
right now, they're offeringly that are, which is uh, cultural space for
community to get to know each other, to share space Um and to be
physically active, which is rare rightnow because of the pandemic and other numbers
have gone down and they now they'regrowing again. But this is a space
for us to create community, toget to know each other, to get
to know people from our community thatwe normally wouldn't get to meet, and
in doing so we connect. It'sabout community power a lot, right.
Yes. And then how, ultimately, will you go about adding properties or
land to the community interest itself?It's not that easy. Uhpfy that,
commiss early on our third year.Uh, and the only reason we were
able to acquire the first building wasbecause we received public funding through the L
A county. Uh. In Novemberof Twenty Twenty, Hild US Alice,
our supervisor district Um, who isalso the president of the chair it,
was the first advocate in supporting theexpansion of the clt ecosystem. So she
champion a policy that was going toexpand saletes as a pilot program but it
was also going to fund it withfourteen million dollars. And so that was
done with the work of the LosAngeles Community Landrust Coalition, which, going
back into history, in the beginningof the pandemic. At that point it
was only two standing salts and thatwas trust, up delay and Barby Vermont
Pissa was already in the process,but we didn't have our five O,
one c status, and so withinmonths of the pandemic starting, the three
other salties received their five O,one c three status, which was Fred,
Comiso, Reno and liberty salet its. Geographically, we're all over the
L A county. So that helpsus because we're like showing the county border
supervisors that the communities can get togetherand work together, that we don't need
to compete for funding. We can, you know, come with grassroots saletes
that are being lead by people ofColor Um and who better than the community
people to know the needs and wantsof our communities? We might not have
the capacity to ride policy, butwe can need it through coalition work.
I believe that we're somehow aligned inour mission and vision of empowering tenants,
specifically tenants that are black, indigenouspeople of color, because we are the
most impacted by policies that are implementednot by us, and so policies are
a new form of redlining. Aswell of keeping us from becoming homeowners,
are telling us where to live,and we want to break out of that
cycle. We want to break outof that psychle that's extractive. We want
to invest in our communities, wewant to bring those resources, and so
by doing it collectively, we wecan do it, because we know we
have to build those relationships, becausealone we will never be able to do
it. It's impossible because it's allabout money, you know. So that's
how we were able to acquire thefirst building. I believe we have seven
buildings with this five celts. Thatmeans that forty seven families are gonna be,
you know, saved from having thosefeelings of levels of stress of house
and insecurity because they're not gonna bedisplaced. You know, our job as
a colt is to educate them andlet them know that our work here is
to prevent them from being displaced and, if anything, to protect them and
their families and make ensure that theyknow that they can remain at their community
at an affordable rent price and thatthey are also part of a community landrust
and how they can become active ora protagonist. It's a lot of work,
but it's exciting at the same timebecause we're not just doing how would
you say, like a temporary patchof solution. We're thinking of sometime things
that's gonna last for the next sevengenerations or more. It's kind of going
back to the way things were inthe beginning, before we got colonized,
when we were all in community,we lived together and it wasn't about how
much you could afford or, youknow, in pain and rent. It's
just about making sure that you livewith dignity and that you had the basic
needs. That was Fanny Goose Monorties in the Boil Heights neighborhood in Los
Angeles. To learn more about howa community landrust can save how thing from
being turned into a commodity. Besure to listen to that entire episode.
It's titled This is our land,not a money making scheme. We hope
you enjoyed this episode of next cityshow about change, bikers and their stories.
Together we can spread good ideas fromone city to the next city.
Thank you for listening this week.Thank you to Emily Nanko, who first
reported the story for next city.Thank you to our guests L C and
Havana and Nobuela, from where theland. Our audio producer is Silvana Alcohola,
our scriptwriter is Francesco Mamlin, ourexecutive producers are Tyler Nielsen and Ryan
Tillotson, and I'm Lucas Grimly,executive director for next city. By the
way, next city is a newsorganization with a nonprofit model. If you
like what we're doing here, pleaseconsider pitching in to support our work.
visit next city dot org slash membershipto make a donation. We would love
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