The following is the full text of a testimony presented by NWCLT President John Elliott Churchiville to the CAPER Community Needs Assessment Public Hearing:
Good afternoon. My name is John Elliott Churchville, and I am the President and CEO of Northwest CLT Corporation (NWCLT), a nonprofit community land trust and community-based housing development organization operating in the Germantown/ Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.
NWCLT came into existence in response to the housing and homelessness crisis that has disproportionately affected Black people because of historic, long-term systemic racism. We are committed to creating a long-term solution to this crisis in the Northwest section of Philadelphia by providing both affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents, and the opportunity to create wealth for low-income families. To this end, we have dedicated ourselves to: Stewarding the land we will soon own; Caring for and providing supportive services to the people who will live on that land; and Stewarding the resources that come to, and are produced by the land for not less than the next ninety-nine (99) years.
Our mission is to provide affordable rental and homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income people, while preserving the quality and affordability of these apartments and homes for future low-income residents.
Our vision is to facilitate the creation of wealth for low-income renters and homeowners by offering combined rent, land lease, and mortgage payments that do not exceed 30% of their monthly gross income. This will allow them to save, invest, and/or build up equity in their own homes.
Northwest CLT Corporation was founded on the principle of Racial Equity. We believe that Racial Equity begins with homeownership opportunities for low-income Black and other People of Color. We believe that Black and other People of Color’s ability to own and maintain a home is the only foundation upon which Racial Equity can be built. Further, we believe that shared-equity homeownership that keeps the prices of quality homes within the reach of the lowest-income Persons of Color is the only acceptable manifestation of Racial Equity for Black people in the United States who have, for over four hundred (400) years, borne the greatest burden of racist oppression, and the most egregious form of economic injustice.
With offices located on the campus of St. Luke’s Church in the 5400 block of Germantown Avenue, we carry out our purpose in Northwest Philadelphia. More specifically, our service area is bounded by Gorgas Lane to the Northwest, Stenton Avenue to the Northeast, Windrim Avenue to the Southeast, and Wissahickon Avenue to the Southwest.
We know that the long history of racist governmental housing, zoning, and mortgage lending policies and practices at the federal, state, and local level are responsible for the wealth disparity that exists between White and Black people. We also know that the current affordable housing crisis is the natural and foreseeable result of these historic governmental racist policies and the practices and procedures that flowed from them.
But that is not all we know. The good news is that we know what the antidote is for eradicating the poisonous effects of racial disparities and the current affordable housing crisis. That antidote requires that government at the federal, state, and local level institute and enforce antiracist housing, zoning, and mortgage lending policies, while prioritizing the housing needs of Black and other People of Color who are suffering because of past government racist policies.
To this end Northwest CLT Corporation offers five (5) specific policy recommendations and practices that should be put into effect immediately.
First, The Consolidated Plan should make Racial Equity its major goal and embed it in its requirements and practices. Government funded programs can advance Racial Equity by ensuring that unravelling racism is an explicit goal, and that all stakeholders in housing initiatives understand and commit to antiracist action. The design of all housing initiatives should include antiracist principles in how they select communities, and hire, manage and train staff for the initiatives.
Second, The Consolidated Plan should focus its efforts on developing and equipping community-based housing development organizations that are led by Black and other People of Color. Priority should be given to growing and supporting these grass-roots efforts through funding and technical assistance, as well as providing them opportunities to partner with more experienced developers of low-, moderate- and mixed-income projects. The goal of this policy is to increase the number of experienced, reliable, and organizationally stable BIPOC partners who have the best interests of their communities at heart.
Third, The Consolidated Plan should require the shifting of power, the taking of risks, and the building of trust. Inequitable outcomes invariably flow from inherently inequitable power imbalances. Shifting power means offering more authority over goal setting and decision-making to those affected by an issue, including hiring community members as staff, and paying them as participants. Traditional actors with power and control over resources—funders, business leaders, government officials—can take greater risks in their commitments by investing in communities with less capacity and allowing those communities to set goals, act, make mistakes, and change direction based on lessons learned. Powerful interests should also be held accountable for their own actions and alter course if they are not furthering an initiative’s antiracist goals. Over time and positive experiences, sharing power and risk builds trust and respect that allows for continued collaboration toward common goals.
Fourth, The Consolidated Plan should bridge communities, initiatives, and sectors. Place-based initiatives can advance Racial Equity and amplify their outcomes by intentionally building connections with other communities and initiatives doing similar work. Initiatives and their sites can learn Best Practices from peers, compare data and evidence, and collaboratively drive city, state, and federal policy reform by leveraging their combined evidence of broad-based needs for systems change. Pulling together representatives from all parts of a system—including public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders—can ensure that everyone involved in producing racially inequitable outcomes is made accountable for changing them.
Fifth, and finally, The Consolidated Plan should stay the course and commit for the long haul. The roots of racism run deep, and all these changes and outcomes take time to achieve. A long investment horizon, and an even longer timeline for measuring outcomes, fosters trust with the Black community, enables a focus on structural changes instead of short-term gains, and allows for adaptation and learning. With a long-term outlook, initiatives can attend to all conditions necessary for systemic change, which promotes more durable results.
In closing, I have but two brief final points to make. The first point is that the Racial Equity road ahead of us will not be popular, pleasing, or predictable; but it will be principled, progressive, and profitable for everyone, including the naysayers.
Northwest CLT Corporation understands that because Racial Equity and systemic change through antiracist government policies have not come into being from the founding of America to this very day, we cannot expect to see Racial Equity and systemic change come in the next twenty-four or even forty-eight hours.
The second and final point is that Northwest CLT Corporation knows that by making Racial Equity the goal of The Consolidated Plan today, we will all have the courage to move forward together toward the Beloved Community that awaits our coming tomorrow.