From Amazon to Advocacy: reclaiming space for the neighborhood with Memo Salazar of the Western Queens CLT

Memo Salazar from the Western Queens Community Land Trust discuss the formation and mission of the CLT, its role in combating gentrification, and the broader challenges of housing affordability in New York City. The conversation delves into the failed Amazon HQ2 project, the “City of Yes” rezoning initiative, and the importance of community engagement in urban development.

While we didn’t agree on everything, and differ on what we think is driving housing unaffordability, we agree that a wider set of housing options besides just market rate housing is needed to make NYC more affordable, and envisioning a positive future is imperative.



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Guest Bio

Memo is a Mexican-born filmmaker and writer living in Queens, NY. As a filmmaker, he has directed a Public Enemy music video, worked with homeless children & Elmo for Sesame Street, and collaborated with theoretical physicist Brian Greene on a Ted Talk. As an activist, he co-runs the Sunnyside CSA and is the co-chair of the Western Queens CLT. He is also a recipient of Arena’s Five Borough Future fellowship and of the 2019 Queens Latinx leadership award for community activism.


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Spotlight: New York City’s Housing Supply Challenge

“New York City’s housing market is one of the priciest in the nation. The brisk growth in the city’s economy in the decade leading up to the pandemic was not accompanied by comparably rapid growth in the city’s housing stock. This has contributed to a growing problem of affordability for many residents as well as prospective residents wanting to move here. During the pandemic, as the city’s population slipped, indicators of affordability temporarily eased, but only briefly and predominantly for middle- and high-income residents. As the pandemic faded, jobs returned, many people who had left moved back, immigration renewed, and the increase in work-from-home led some to seek more residential space, the supply shortage became even more severe. This intensifying shortage of housing is not unique to New York City but instead ubiquitous across the nation – suggesting that national, state, and local solutions are all needed.”


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Episode Outline

  1. Community Land Trusts (CLTs): CLTs are a way for communities to own and control land, ensuring it serves the community’s needs perpetually and remains affordable.
  2. Decommodification of Land: CLTs aim to take land off the market, preventing it from being a commodity that can be bought and sold for profit, thereby preserving it for community use.
  3. Western Queens CLT Formation: The Western Queens CLT was formed in response to the proposed, but failed, Amazon HQ2 project in Long Island City, with the goal of converting a large Department of Education building into a community-centered space.
  4. Role of Economic Development Corporation (EDC): The EDC has significant influence and resources but operates differently from CLTs, often focusing on larger scale and market-driven development projects.
  5. Housing Crisis and Affordability: The discussion emphasizes New York City’s housing crisis, highlighting the need for affordable housing and critiquing the notion that merely increasing supply will solve affordability issues, especially in the face of investment-driven real estate markets.
  6. City of Yes Initiative: This initiative seeks to increase housing supply through rezoning and regulatory changes, aiming to make it easier to build affordable housing, though its effectiveness and approach are debated.
  7. Community Engagement and Advocacy: The importance of community involvement in shaping development and housing policy is stressed, with the Western Queens CLT actively engaging local residents and stakeholders in planning and advocacy efforts.
  8. Economic and Political Challenges: The conversation addresses broader economic and political challenges in housing, including the impact of investment on real estate markets and the need for substantial subsidies to ensure true affordability.
  9. Vision for the Future: The Western Queens CLT has a vision of transforming the DOE building into a multifunctional space that includes manufacturing, artist studios, a food co-op, and other community resources, all at deeply affordable rents.
  10. Public vs. Private Interests: The dialogue underscores the tension between public and private interests in urban development, with CLTs representing a model that prioritizes long-term community benefits over short-term financial gains.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00]

Pull quote

Memo Salazar: A community land trust is a way for the community to own and control land. And by the community owning and controlling, we become the stewards of that land. The birth of Western Queens CLT was basically, “Let’s turn this DOE building into a community centered space for artists.”

We’ll have a rooftop farm. We’ll have a food co op so people can get affordable, healthy food.

Journey With Purpose: Welcome to Journey with Purpose episode 17. This is your host, Randy Plemel. Today’s episode hits close to home.

I’m speaking with Memo Salazar, who is one of the co chairs of the Western Queens Community Land Trust, who hopes to convert an existing, very large, city owned building at the edge of Long Island City into community owned land. And run commercial and light industrial center. So I live just down the street from this proposed project and I would personally love seeing this happen.

this episode was edited [00:01:00] down from very long conversation with memo. And I think it’s really interesting in that while we don’t always agree on everything. I think it’s a really instructive conversation and it’s worth us having. So memo, welcome to the pod. Where are we speaking to you from today?

Introduction

Memo Salazar: my name is Memo Salazar. I am the co chair of the Western Queens Community Land Trust. I’m talking to you actually from Western Queens specifically the neighborhood of Sunnyside, where I’ve lived for over two decades now, I became involved in the land trust because it gets more and more expensive every year, and realizing that the system was rigged somehow, but not understanding how and why, and just knowing that things get more expensive.

And I sort of naively kept thinking things would get cheaper, and someday I’d be able to buy a house. And the older I got, the more I realized, wait a minute, things aren’t getting cheaper.

Journey With Purpose: So I think we all know that rent doesn’t feel like it’s getting cheaper. Tell us what a CLT is and [00:02:00] how that might help

Memo Salazar: A community land trust is basically a way for the community to own and control land. And the point of it is by the community owning and controlling, basically we become the stewards of that land. You’re taking it off the market. So you’re decommodifying that land and you’re turning it from something that can be bought and sold and be profited off to something that purely serves the community in perpetuity.

This land is now no longer able to be sold. As long as this CLT exists, we will hold the deed. In the deed, the legal restrictions will prevent you from selling this land. The unique thing about CLTs is that the CLT doesn’t, Own the building that is on that land. So it sort of separates buildings from the land underneath the building, which is a weird concept to wrap your head around. And it took me a little while to really understand what that meant.

The philosophical concept is land isn’t ours to buy and sell. Land is for the people that live on the land and it [00:03:00] has to benefit the entire community as a whole, not just like your wallet, because you happen to luck out and get a good deal at a certain point in time, and that’s kind of how CLTs work.

Thank Amazon for the CLT

Journey With Purpose: So how did the Western Queens community land trust form?

Memo Salazar: The governor had promised a building to Amazon where they could build their headquarters. And it was a huge, massive building built during the depression, like WPA, that sort of subsidy money. In Long Island City, which the Department of Education controls and works in and has been in there for decades. It’s about 650, 000 square feet. It’s a huge, it has loading docks. It’s a very industrial building, really well built. That was going to be torn down and turned into HQ2 for Amazon. When that didn’t happen, a lot of us were Like, what’s next? Like, what is the governor going to do next with this building? Clearly it’s a bargaining chip, you know, they’re going to do something else. That’s public land. That’s a public building. Queens has almost no public lands left. LIC used to be a [00:04:00] big manufacturing area. It also used to be a big artist area. A lot of great artists have lived there over the years. A lot of them have been priced out. Street vendors and food carts and all sorts of things. There used to be more street vendor garages.

These have been priced out. It’s very expensive to find if you’re an artist, any kind of studio space. This building could solve all of those problems or at least make a huge dent in solving those problems. Why can’t we turn it into a community hub instead of selling it or giving it to Google or Facebook or whoever comes down the road next, That was kind of the question.

And so we started getting together and inviting groups like the new economy project, which is a nonprofit group here in the city that looks at innovative ways to change our whole economic structure. And that’s when the idea of community land trusts popped up and I didn’t know what a CLT was. And so we invited other CLTs.

For example, in the Bronx, South Bronx, there’s a, the Mott Haven CLT who actually Is in the process and was already [00:05:00] in the process of trying to reclaim a public building up there in the Bronx that the health department had to shut down, kind of similar to what we were thinking of doing. And so they came and spoke to us and we started learning about CLTs.

What is the Western Queens CL

Journey With Purpose: what would the vision of the future be if the Western Queens Community Land Trust takes over this very large Department of Education building? What, what would that be like?

Memo Salazar: The building would not be residential. It would be all manufacturing. The birth of Western Queens CLT was basically Let’s turn this DOE building into a community centered space for artists. We’ll have a rooftop farm. We’ll have a food co op so people can get affordable, healthy food. We’re going to have parking for street cart vendors. We’re going to have tons of artists space and studios. We’re going to have light manufacturing for immigrants and co ops. We’re going to have workforce training centers, all of those things. and the key point to all of it, it’ll be a deeply affordable rent.

It won’t be at [00:06:00] market rate per square foot rent, it’ll be deeply affordable. So the people who cannot afford that space finally have a place buy into it. .

Journey With Purpose: I’m trying to disentangle in my head the policy pluses and challenges of a CLT versus say, what the New York City EDC does. And say in the Navy yard, which is a quasi public organization, whose remit is similar where they are on purpose, having some market rate rent for commercial and industrial, but some lower market rent and space for light manufacturing.

Is that just a different model or is there something better or unique about the CLT model.

Memo Salazar: Yes, there is a huge difference between what the EDC does and what CLTs can do, although the EDC, because they’re an arm of the mayor, basically has a lot of money and power that we don’t have, right? So they’re able to do a lot of things that we don’t have because we’re just a small group of community people. However, [00:07:00] from like a, how does it work level? CLTs are there is a tripartite structure to the way a CLT runs and a tripartite means it’s divided into three parts.

So in a CLT, You can only have one third of the governing structure, be people that are directly living or working on CLT properties. Another third has to be from members of the community who have a stake in the community, their stakeholders, respected people in the community, but they don’t gain anything from the CLT directly. And a third would come from academic advisors and experts , but don’t necessarily are part of the community. They have a lot of knowledge that helps steer the ship, so to speak.

So CLTs has like a very robust checks and balances system. Now the EDC could build amazing, affordable programs as well. But if you look at their track record, they have done some of that. They’ve also built Hudson yards, right? They’ve been behind Hudson yards and Atlantic yards and some of the worst, most destructive building projects in the [00:08:00] city

I don’t want to trash talk the EDC. They have the power to do great things. This building that we are looking at, which we are calling the Queensborough People’s Space is basically under the guise of the EDC, and we will need to work with to get This vision passed.

They have good people at the EDC who are very smart and can make things happen. But because of the political reality of New York city between the mayor, whoever the mayor happens to be and so on, it doesn’t always turn out doing great things for the community. It often ends up being that a private entity is given a longterm lease and able to sell or rent. At much higher prices than what any of us can afford.

And so in the end, who’s actually benefiting from those things? It’s a certain level of economic strata that ignores and pushes out a lower level of economic strata, basically for better or for worse. [00:09:00] And we would argue for worse because there’s a lot of people here that just don’t come anywhere close to the average medium income of what the state’s own affordability levels are.

Journey With Purpose: that makes sense to me since both CLT, EDC, and the Navy Yard operate on different timeframes and they’re composed of completely different groups of stakeholders. So I’m really interested in this issue of governance since the EDC and even the Navy Yard is a quasi public entity. They’re technically susceptible to pressures of Of and by the mayor who we can vote out. A CLT, however, doesn’t have really a membership you can vote out, right? So if it goes in a different direction, there’s no one to take responsibility. It seems a little bit more amorphous. Can you speak about the differences on how we might run a CLT and how it fits into the larger role of the city?

How Radical is a CLT

Memo Salazar: Depending on where you fall on the political [00:10:00] spectrum of left to right, there are people that view community land trust as not radical enough because we are an incorporated nonprofit, right?

We are part of the economic system and set of rules that this country has created. And for some people, that’s enough to be like, You guys are not the real deal, just because we’re trying to function within that system. And you could argue that the EDC is also trying to function within that system, and we’re on a scale due to any one entity fall.

I , my personal opinion is that, given that we’re not going to be getting rid of capitalism anytime soon it may fall on its own, who knows, but , this is a system we have. I don’t believe from a philosophical level that land is a commodity. It doesn’t make sense to me on a very basic level, but we’ve invented a system where it is a commodity, for me, the CLT , given where we are, this is the most equitable and fair way to do what we’re trying to do with land.

In theory the government should be doing [00:11:00] it, right? The city should be doing it. We shouldn’t exist. The city should have offices, and it’s all public, and they’re creating all this, and they’re stewarding it, and they’re doing the job that they’re supposed to do. Since that has not happened Groups like ours have to exist, and given the economic realities of where we are, , , there’s no other way it’s gonna happen. here.

Journey With Purpose: I think that’s a good point. I also like us to remember that New York is not a new place for experimenting on how people both self determine property and buildings. There’s a great example of the Lower East Side called ABC no Rio. It was a squat that took over a building, but it took 25, 30 years. It took a long time to go from squatting.

To actually get the deed and then get enough funding to upgrade the building. So it’s always interesting to see how different people different tactics Are employed in determining communal property and I think this is a good thing because Each neighborhood and group has its own unique needs. I was just looking up [00:12:00] on the New York city department of planning website about community board two, where this is.

And I didn’t realize that the community board two is 49 percent manufactured zoning. And some of that zoning, you can build commercial enterprises, offices, maybe some housing Over here in the western edge of Queens, where this property is and where I live, this was all manufacturing. It’s all being adaptively adaptively reused. some of the lots are brownfields and they’re being remediated. And so I’m always curious how we can use and reuse Some of this infrastructure, especially from an environmental point of view, all that embodied carbon in this giant Which sits on the edge of the river. We should be able to reuse that.

And so we’ve talked a little bit about housing and you have upcoming town hall which poses the question, quote, why is the rent so damn high? Can you talk a little bit about both what the town hall is about and what you hope to happen at this [00:13:00] town hall?

Memo Salazar: Yeah, so Long Island City is a very unique place in the world. For the last few years, the fastest growing neighborhood in the city, due to all the high market, expensive tower, residential towers that were built very quickly, due to Bloomberg era rezoning. It has made that neighborhood much more affluent, right? The income level, the average income level now is much higher.

Journey With Purpose: a few notes. Yes. Mayor Bloomberg did rezone the Brooklyn Queens waterfront, which produced a bunch of homes in the form of towers along the waterfront.

But as part of his rezoning about a block or two away from the water, they effectively down zoned. A big part of the neighborhoods where they did what was called contextual zoning, where there’d be two, three, four story brownstones and things like that. And what’s even more remarkable is that during the Bloomberg administration, more land in New York city was either down zoned or limited than up zoned.

86 percent of the lots that were rezoned during his tenure, building [00:14:00] capacity is either reduced or limited. Now, Long Island city where I call home as one of the fastest growing neighborhoods, Since much of the waterfront was adoptively reused from derelict manufacturing and converted to homes.

Neighborhood is about 30 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, 35 percent Asian, and only 3 percent African American. So it is A growing community that has been in flux. Okay, back to memo.

Current Mayor

Memo Salazar: Now, we have the current mayor who I’m not a huge fan of who is proposing this city of yes program, which has a lot of basically rezoning. actually, it’s not rezoning itself. It is changing the laws of zoning to make it easier to build things So where there’s a lot of regulations, it’s streamlines and regulations, and basically the philosophy is very simple. It says new York is in a big housing crisis. We only have a 1 percent availability right now. If you look at other cities, they’ve built a lot more. New York is really behind on building. We need to build, [00:15:00] we need to build as much as we can, as fast as we can, as tall as we can, and as dense as we can.

It’s basically the philosophy. And as you increase the housing supply, the cost will go down. And so by streamlining all these regulations, it’ll make it easier for developers to build. They don’t have to sit there and go through hoops. And that’s good for everybody. So that’s a citywide push that’s happening right now.

City of Yes

Journey With Purpose: Okay, I’m going to stop there one more time. We have a longer City of Yes episode coming out. But let me explain it simply to you connect with what memo is saying. So there’s really four parts.

First one is increasing the ability to build taller buildings with more units in areas where you’re already allowed to build tall, so much of Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn and Queens. So part of this is matching some of the height and density. Allowances for different types of properties. So it’s our harmonizes it. So the upshot and hope here is taller buildings where [00:16:00] there’s already taller buildings.

So second, and I think potentially has more impact, but is really about reviving what we already did is that in lower height neighborhoods, which parts of Long Island City are, it’s about allowing people to build the types of homes New York has always built. So this is three to five floor housing units, brownstones, oftentimes with that bottom floor. Having a store, a bodega or something on the ground.

This is something that if you look at any photographs back before 1961, this is what was being built. These three, four, five story buildings with commercial on the ground floor.

So the third part is getting rid of parking minimums. So since this is New York and the best way to get around is public transportation and less than half of people own cars. Getting rid of requiring people to build parking is a smart idea. This both lowers the cost of overall building and we don’t need cars in New York they’re useful, but [00:17:00] If you want to build parking, go right ahead. It’s not required.

So in the last bucket, it’s a whole bunch of more technocratic rules, which simplifies zoning and land use. And this is because it’s about a century of incremental editing has made errors and errata and means and methods that allow people to get around some of these rules. one time I designed a 14 story apartment building, which could get that high because we could call the whole building a dormer. That’s silly. This would eliminate that https: otter. ai

And shown by some of the research is directionally true. We haven’t built enough homes for the amount of people and the amount of households who want to live here in New York. And there’s clearly a link between supply and demand. It’s weak and directional, and it’s messy because It’s hard to draw [00:18:00] big circles around experiments, but we’ve seen the studies from Minneapolis and Auckland and just this week in Austin, there’s reports out that both softening of demand and building more supply is redundant.

Okay, back to Memo.

Memo Salazar: We could build 100, 000 more units here in New York City, and they’re just going to get bought up by these investment companies because it’s a great investment for them, and it’s not going to do anything to make a dent in the actual people that need housing. I mean, it’ll make a little tiny dent. But all it will really do is bring up the cost for everybody because demand will still be just as high New york is such a prime location for real estate in the world That there’s an almost seemingly endless supply of people ready to buy up the stock So if you and your family go shop for a house You’re competing not against other families, you’re competing against people who can pay cash, and buy it up right now because they’re a wealthy investor from another [00:19:00] country.

And that’s just the sad reality. So the only way to build truly affordable housing is to start getting huge federal and state programs that subsidize the cost of housing and Tip the scale back towards mission driven groups like CLT’s.

Journey With Purpose: I want to gently push back So there’s a lot of really good high quality studies out of say New Zealand and Minneapolis Which it’s not a 100%, but it does point the way that housing abundance in various forms can start to contain costs either at or below inflation. I think you’re right in that this is a Super complicated, messy situation because what happened, especially in New York, what gets built or not gets built in one neighborhood affects the other one, right? I’d like you to challenge this thesis. the one natural experiment, four years and three days ago, a national emergency happened [00:20:00] and we all had to stop and A huge proportion of New Yorkers left for a variety of reasons. And all those glass towers, they all of a sudden had a lot of supply and not a lot of demand. And so they were re signing people up left and right. and they did all sorts of incentives, free rent. rent reduction, things like that. Two years later, people came back. Remember that summer when everybody was like back and all of a sudden now, even to this day, like shit is expensive. Demand went back up and supply isn’t there.

Memo Salazar: No, you’re right. I mean supply and demand as a theory is a sound theory And you’re absolutely right. Like that was a case Where very quickly, the demand went straight down and so very quickly the real estate folks have to think on their feet and start offering. Although if you notice, what they offered was a very [00:21:00] temporary rebate, right?

Like people weren’t being given like 10 year deals. It was like, sure, you can get this really cheap thing for a year.

Journey With Purpose: they had the, reserves and the patients, cause I, I saw a lot of our friends got two and three year, re signs but , your point is, is right. they could wait it out. so this, shows that supply and demand is a real thing.

Memo Salazar: First of all, you’re not wrong about supply and demand. My point was that the, what we call demand, what we think when we think supply and demand is we’re thinking there’s a bunch of units on this side and a bunch of people that need homes on this side. It’s just that the demand is. Not just people needing homes. It’s like investors needing things to invest in. And so during COVID, that all went away. Like you weren’t going to, as an investor, you weren’t going to start buying up, not knowing what was going to happen to the world, right?

It was truly a big question mark. And even those guys didn’t have a crystal ball. So demand just stopped. It wasn’t just housing demand. It was investment demand as well.

Journey With Purpose: We might have [00:22:00] to agree to disagree on how much outside investors play a role in housing prices as in the U. S. over two thirds of Americans own their own homes, but I do grant that New York does have some unique situations and there are policy proposals to eliminate some of these unique demands in buying a property.

Journey With Purpose: So what’s happening in Long Island City

Memo Salazar: In long Island city DCP in coordination with our council person, Julie Won are leading these community led discussions about how we want to see long Island city. what do we want to see for development? And Julie’s point of view was there’s all these developments that are going to be proposed. Let’s get ahead of that by getting the community to speak up first. And DCP has been leading it with this consulting firm. And hosting all these public meetings.

The Town Hall

Journey With Purpose: So I’d love to know more about this town hall [00:23:00] that’s coming up.

Memo Salazar: We have been working for the last few years. In conjunction with Queensbridge and also the community of Ravenswood, which is also a public housing a little bit further north. They’re always the ones that never are heard and their demands and their needs and the issues that they’re facing are always basically ignored just constantly. And so from their point of view, they keep seeing these glass towers come up. They have no healthy supermarket nearby. Everything’s getting more expensive around them.

So, the cost of living for them is just increasing, increasing, increasing. They deal with a lot of things that we don’t have to deal with, like a broken elevator that never gets repaired, or like, not having heat for half of the winter, and so on. And everybody sort of pays lip service to their needs. But that’s about as far as it goes.

We’re trying to work with the resident leaders to try to start And this is not going to be an easy process. I’m not pretending like this one town hall is going to be the start of a revolution or [00:24:00] anything, but it’s to try to give them the tools to advocate for themselves by organizing and mostly by knowing how the system works.

Memo Salazar: The reason why I’m very skeptical about the city of yes proposal and the DCP rezoning that they’re looking at for the area is that. Unless there are huge subsidies and funding that comes from a federal, state, and city level to make affordable housing, we’re not going to get affordable housing is impossible for the market to provide that. And the idea that if we just build enough housing, the prices will all go down sounds True. If you just kind of think of supply and demand, it is very basic two factors, but the reality is that there’s a lot more factors happening in the city, namely, and not even the city, the world really, namely that housing since 2008, since the big housing crisis of 2008, Has in a huge hyperinflated way become great investment [00:25:00] opportunity anyone, whether it’s a corporation or a really rich person, like if you want to make money, invest in housing.

Journey With Purpose: The thing is that having a pro housing abundance policy, where we fund public housing, private housing, co ops, bowel group and communal living, this will lift all boats. So do you think we’re really at odds here, or is this just a matter of degrees of focus, and where to put our energies?

Memo Salazar: I don’t wanna give the impression , that I’m, like, against building housing. . We need to build how I wouldn’t have joined a CLT if I didn’t think we needed to build housing, right? Like, like, we need it for sure. And for the obvious reason that we need homes for all these people, like, like 1000%.

Thing that is frustrating is that we have come to accept after World War Two. FDR I’ll give him the credit, although it was really more than just FDR. have many policies that were like every American deserves a home. Now, of course there is a whole racial element to that that we’ll ignore for now.

But for the people that [00:26:00] they cared about at the time, they were pushing housing and there were all these bills and acts that brought huge amounts of federal funding to build housing. They were subsidizing housing, like the government was subsidizing housing to a huge degree. And that trickled down to the state and city levels, and that’s how New York was able to build all this great housing and all over the country.

And then, during the Reagan and Clinton administrations, all of that was gutted. And, it opened the door for what we have now, which is this idea that like, housing is more to be made money off of than it is to just provide people homes. And so now we’re at a point where the city’s point of view is like, this is where we’re at.

So we have to play the game by the rules of the developers and the real estate industry, because what else do we have? and no one is fighting back on a political level. To say no, like we need more money in NYCHA. We need more money just to subsidize housing. Like, yes, let’s build, but we have to build it with huge subsidies to make it affordable.

like [00:27:00] the problem is there’s no political will to have that happen on like these higher level where the state budgets are being allocated and so on. And so then we’re all like left scrambling for the little crumbs. And the developers are like, well, we’re the ones that are best poised to make these crumbs into something.

And then CLTs kind of get pushed to the side, except for every so often we might get a building here and there, but it’s never going to be enough.

Imagination

Journey With Purpose: So I, I agree with that. I think there’s a lot of political will and focus on making it easier for market rate building to happen. I just think that aligning some of the policies that will help market rate housing also helps other things like NYCHA housing. low income, communal housing, and things like that. It’s all one system.

Memo Salazar: One of the things I do like about the City of Yes proposal is , it would make it easier to, , convert your basement into an apartment, right? Things like that. I’m like, yeah, like I’m all for like creative ways like build an apartment over your [00:28:00] garage or whatever,

. I feel like I’m a little more skeptical in the sense that we have tried many things. They’ve always ended up in just making things more expensive.

Memo Salazar: And then I’ve never seen a case where, Oh, and the neighborhood got cheaper or stayed the same in Brooklyn, in Queens, in whatever. We actually have more housing now per capita than we ever have had in it since 1940 here in New York city. But to your point in 1940, there were more people living in a single place.

Right? So things have changed.

I don’t mean to make it simple, like the answer is there’s some kind of like smoking gun. I just know that without serious subsidies, the level of affordability is going to still keep a huge. Portion and it won’t be you and I to be firmly honest like I’m not rich, but I’m okay, right? You’re probably okay but the people that are really going to be screwed over are the ones that you won’t even be able to meet whatever the affordable housing levels that we have created

like We’re advocating [00:29:00] for those folks the most, as well as middle class and working class and all of us. And if you look at our constitution, our New York state constitution, right, article 17 says very clearly it is our job to care for the most in need.

So that’s the moral push that the CLT has beyond just all the like pragmatic economic realities. , it’s our job as New Yorkers. Right. If we don’t do that, who’s going to do it. Going back to the town hall, we’re just trying to get the community conversation going in a really big way.

We want people not just from Queensbridge and Ravenswood to come. We want people from all over long Island city and Astoria in Queens to come and hear each other and meet each other. And figure out like how can we work together and that’s a huge ask And I know we’re not going to get that idealistic goal, but at least we’re going to start.

A small group of people

Journey With Purpose: So my favorite West Wing line is from season four. It’s where President Bartlett says, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and [00:30:00] committed people can change the world. So Memo, I want to thank you for spending time with us today. We couldn’t use everything. Can you remind us about what we can do to Who the Western Queens community land trust is and where can we find you

Memo Salazar: The western queens community land trust is a group of everybody It’s just people like we have we now have enough money to have a full time staff coordinator and she’s amazing But the rest of us are Just like you, we have day jobs, we’re parents, you know, we can always use more people, anybody who’s interested in that includes you, like if you’re interested.

We have monthly steering committee meetings. We have sub committees that specify potential projects on funding and grant writing and so on. Like, we need people for sure. I mean, we have an amazing group of people that are already in it, but it’s, we’re not a huge organization. Our door is open to anybody who wants to join.

So if you’re even want to just check out a steering committee meeting or even just have like a meet and greet, we’d Please, like, reach out.

I am more than happy [00:31:00] to, meet with whoever. we need people.

Memo Salazar: not just us, like, Queens needs you, and this is one way to get involved. You could get involved in other ways as well, but we’re here for everybody.

Journey with Purpose: And where can we find you in the CLT online?

Memo Salazar: wqclt.org has a community vision of this building that I was talking about, the Queensborough people’s space. We hired an architect. We did a year worth of visioning and talked to people all over, groups, individuals, all of that information and data went into this report. You can download the PDF. It’s sitting on the website. You can look at the thing and see the vision for this building. My name is Memo Salazar, I’m talking to you from Sunnyside, Queens, in New York City, and I am the co chair of the Western Queens Community Land Trust.

We’re here to work with the Queens community in any shape or form to take land off of the market and make it permanently affordable for any use, whether that’s housing or a commercial space. Or a community garden, any kind of land use that the community [00:32:00] has, we want to work with the Queens community to help them find that space.

Take ownership and stewardship of the space and make it affordable for everybody in perpetuity.

Outro

Journey With Purpose: My thanks to memo Salazar from the Western Queens community land trust for his time and for us having a wide ranging conversation. What I really liked about this conversation is that. While we didn’t always agree on everything

I think we agree on two fundamental things. One, we need a broader set of housing and commercial space options in New York city than just either badly funded public housing on one side and pure market rate housing on the other. I think it’s about housing abundance in all ways. If you listen to my king of zoning episodes, some of my policy proposals really do push for things like.

Community land trust, new way of funding, building homes and a revision of our zoning code. So we can build the types of homes which we used to build in New York before 1961, when they were effectively outlawed.

[00:33:00] so my personal preference would be for this to be the basis and the floor of what’s allowable. Not only here in New York, but throughout America at some point we decided you can only build single family homes, but that’s a relatively new thing. We built denser homes until we decided that car based policy was the way to go. We can reverse that. There’s nothing natural about a single family home.

Second, we need to keep talking and imagining what our neighborhood should look like, what they should feel and who they should support. And we need to keep making sure that everybody has a home. Rungs up the ladder and we need to do it together.

So I am inspired by what the folks are doing at the Western Queens community land trust, and you should check them out at their website, wqclt. org. And if you’re in Long Island city this weekend on Saturday, March 23rd, from one to three, you can join their town hall at community school, one 11. The information is in the show notes. [00:34:00] So my thanks for them, for their time and engagement.

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