Just last month, YUCA (Youth United for Community Action), a 27-year-old grassroots organization in East Palo Alto focused on social justice and youth empowerment, was on the verge of being displaced from its yellow adobe brick home of 11 years, after the long-time property owner told YUCA staff that he intended to remodel the house and put it on the market for sale.
With the incredible support from foundations, philanthropists, and private donors, YUCA was able to fundraise the $1.2M needed to acquire the house. YUCA is now fundraising an additional $500,000 on GoFundMe to provide much-needed rehabilitation and repairs to the main building and its accessory dwelling unit (ADU).
This fundraising effort fits within the broader vision listed in East Palo Alto’s Partnership for the Bay’s Future Challenge Grant. The Challenge Grants bring local changemakers together to work on housing policies that protect tenants and preserve existing affordable housing. One of the East Palo Alto Challenge Grant goals is to launch a preservation model centered on a Community Land Trust (CLT) to acquire, rehabilitate, and redevelop properties.
The East Palo Alto Challenge Grant partners identified the YUCA site at 2135 Clarke Ave—a 2,692 sq ft single-family home property that holds a historical significance in the community as an intergenerational center for organizing, learning, and healing—as one of the pilot projects to acquire buildings and retain that building’s affordability under a community land trust.
Challenge Grant partners EPACANDO (East Palo Alto Community Alliance and Neighborhood Development Organization) and PAHALI (Preserving Affordable Housing Assets Longterm, Inc.) community land trust are working with YUCA to complete the acquisition and ensure permanent affordability and community stewardship of the site.
While EPACANDO has pledged a $250,000 loan toward the purchase of the YUCA site, it has also committed to providing technical assistance for the future production of an additional ADU, for a total of two ADU’s on the site.
EPACANDO has a 30-year track record of helping expand affordable housing and is currently administering the City of East Palo Alto’s below market rate ownership program. EPACANDO’s new CANDO ADU program is helping homeowners get ADUs by offering free ADU lot assessments, financial counseling, and permitting, construction, and leasing support. Three pilot ADUs are now breaking ground under the CANDO ADU program, and a new ADU on the YUCA site could be the next pilot project if enough funding is secured.
What makes the YUCA ADU pilot project unique is PAHALI’s commitment to keeping the site’s ADU permanently affordable through community stewardship. This site will serve as the inaugural “placekeepers co-op,” ultimately comprising more than 20 scattered-site ADUs for cooperative shareholding members.
PAHALI is a 25-year-old community land trust whose mission is placekeeping for local placekeepers; serving the region and focusing on East Palo Alto. “Pahali” is a Swahili word that means “place.” The name is an intentional reference to African-American roots of the community land trust movement in the United States and to the African-American leadership of the establishment of self-governance for East Palo Alto residents.
“Black and indigenous communities have already identified community stewardship as a vision for community healing and prosperity, so it is important for us to listen and act on these teachings,” said Ofelia Bello, Youth United for Community Action Executive Director and PAHALI Board Chair.
To that end, PAHALI aims to address the barriers to homeownership by holding land in a community land trust and conveying affordable housing to a cooperative of placekeepers of East Palo Alto. These placekeepers include low-income, multiracial, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational East Palo Alto residents who are facing housing instability and who would greatly benefit from becoming stewards of their own community.
One of these placekeepers is Leonora Martinez, whose story has been widely shared and illustrates the role community land trusts can play in keeping residents rooted and civically engaged in East Palo Alto. Leonora has been able to develop her leadership skills serving on the PAHALI board.
The scattered-site ADU “placekeepers co-op” pilot that closely couples the community land trust and youth leadership development may be the first of its kind in the Bay Area.
A project of this magnitude, however, will require enough flexible acquisition capital to pay for other rapid-response land acquisitions, as well as enough gap permanent financing to keep the land affordable if it must be acquired at near-market price.
In the November 2020 election, East Palo Alto Challenge Grant partners and local community leaders attempted to pass a hotel tax to fund affordable housing acquisition, redevelopment, and rehabilitation. Although the attempt fell just short of the two-thirds threshold needed to pass, advocates are not losing hope to bring this back to the voters.
In the meantime, East Palo Alto Challenge Grant partners are appealing to private funders to help with the acquisitions.
The YUCA site will serve as the first, but not the last, of this “placekeepers co-op” in East Palo Alto. It honors both YUCA and PAHALI’s missions to ensure that homegrown leadership continues to help steward the present and future of East Palo Alto, by putting youth at the forefront.
“With this partnership, YUCA is proving that youth are not just the promise of the future, but all the possibilities of the present,” Bello said.
Funders like the Grove Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and several individuals, family foundations, and community foundations have identified the tremendous need for creating affordable homeownership opportunities in communities impacted by our history of racist housing and land use laws. One of these communities is East Palo Alto, which currently houses a majority of residents who are low-income, people of color facing high housing cost burdens. Most importantly, they are seeing the importance of youth empowerment in the housing and community ownership movement.
“Community land trusts, and the placekeepers co-op in particular, show the power of collaboration and community over the long haul. The San Francisco Foundation is proud to support this work and the possibilities this pilot represents“ said Aysha Pamukcu, Policy Fund Initiative Officer for the Partnership for the Bay’s Future.
After all, intergenerational stewardship of land requires intergenerational leadership development.