South Bay land trust saves residents from displacement
Tafhari Siyani Benjamin Franklin stands outside his home on Reed Street in San Jose. Photo courtesy of South Bay Community Land Trust.

    For more than a year after Tafhari Siyani Benjamin Franklin moved into a fourplex on Reed Street in San Jose, the Navy veteran’s clothes were still in bins and bags. He’d watched as developments sprung up nearby and worried the property—home to formerly unhoused veterans—would be sold next. If that happened, he’d be unable to afford the higher rent, which meant a 30-day eviction notice would follow.

    “Where am I going to go?” Franklin told San José Spotlight. “Because I don’t really know this area. I really don’t. Who do I talk to?”

    Now, Franklin may never have to worry about being homeless again.

    The South Bay Community Land Trust is going to make a down payment on the Reed Street property after reaching its $500,000 fundraising goal. The colorful four-unit home will be the first property purchased by a community land trust in San Jose.

    Community land trusts are nonprofits controlled by residents who aim to decommodify or take housing off the open market and place it in a land trust for 100 years. Then it can’t be sold without all the residents approving.

    The South Bay Community Land Trust launched in 2019 when three community groups teamed up to create the nonprofit. The milestone, announced last week by the organization, followed a five-month-long fundraiser that received support from nearly 90 donors. Donations ranged from $5 to $360,000.

    Jocelin Hernandez, a founding member and treasurer of the South Bay Community Land Trust, told San José Spotlight funding has been the group’s biggest issue.

    What worked for the Reed Street fundraiser was pitching the concept of “organizing class solidarity,” Hernandez said.

    “Instead of asking (for) money from tenants who are barely able to pay rent, we started to reach out to the wealth that we see across Silicon Valley with the message of restorative economics (and) solidarity across class,” Hernandez said.

    The South Bay Community Land Trust is closing in on purchasing a four-unit property on Reed Street in San Jose. Photo courtesy of South Bay Community Land Trust.

    The city supports the land trust’s efforts and plans to increase funding for land acquisition and rehabilitation from $5 million to $25 million, San Jose Housing Department spokesperson Jeff Scott told San José Spotlight. Those funds are expected to be available this fall.

    “It’s exciting to see the land trust’s fundraising success,” Scott said. “Community land trusts are a valuable community-based model that can help reduce displacement of low-income households, give families and individuals meaningful engagement in their housing and potentially create opportunities for homeownership.”

    Santa Clara County lacks a community-based approach to affordable housing, and smaller-scale models have more flexibility than large-scale developments, said Mathew Reed, director of policy at [email protected]

    “What they’re doing is they are taking a market rate property and converting it into an affordable property that is affordable over the long-term,” Reed told San José Spotlight. “It’s different. It’s responsive to the community.”

    As for Franklin, he’s been inspired by the land trust’s efforts to keep him permanently housed on Reed Street. It’s the first time Franklin, who served in the Navy from 1995 to 2002, can remember having a place of his own. In the house, residents look out for each other, share food and create a sense of community.

    Now, he’s helping the land trust by attending marches and organizing against the displacement of longtime residents.

    “They’re coming over here to kick people out because they don’t own their own home,” Franklin said. “You’re taking communities away. Let’s fight for that.”

    Contact Eric He at [email protected] or @erichejourno on Twitter.

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