Op-Ed: Celebrate the Kwanzaa Principle of Ujaama By Developing And Preserving Black Homeownership

Excited mixed-race kids jumping out of box playing with parents

 Kwanzaa is made up of seven principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

 Yesterday was the celebration of ‘Ujaama,’ or Cooperative Economics. While I believe that every principle of Kwanzaa is important to the black community, Ujaama has a particular imperative. Cooperative economics has been practiced by people throughout the African Diaspora for centuries. It has played a major role in creating opportunities for land and homeownership.

Senator Velmanette Montgomery

A community cannot build collective economics if they are not the stewards of their own land, and, in turn, their own future. For this reason, I am proud to sponsor S3469, the New York State Community Land Trust (CLT) Taxation Bill. 

A CLT is a form of homeownership where the resident owns the property while the land trust owns the land underneath. The trust is a nonprofit, with residents, community members and other stakeholders serving on its board. Residents purchase their properties at an affordable rate, and promise to sell the home to the next residents at an affordable rate as well. However, unfair property taxes on CLT properties can make the homes unaffordable.

My legislation would ensure properties on a CLT are taxed at the affordable resale value, not at market rate. This helps maintain affordability for existing and future land trust residents and protects against outside speculators. Most importantly, an adequate taxation structure will give power back to communities.

CLTs are not a new concept. The first, New Communities Inc, was developed in Georgia in the 1960s by civil rights activists. This cooperative empowered black farmers while helping to protect against the massive amount of black land loss occurring in the rural south. Today, homeownership in the black community is in grave danger again. 

In my district, black homeowners have been hit by the foreclosure crisis, predatory practices, deed theft and problematic city policies. In New York City, the black homeownership rate is 26.5%; nearly half of New York’s white homeowner rate. The numbers are more abysmal for black millennials (ages 25-34). The overall millennial city homeownership rate is 20.4% but for black millennials, it is 10%.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in Albany in the 2020 legislative session to pass this CLT taxation bill. I also look forward to a greater conversation on the importance of homeownership in the Black, Hispanic, and LatinX communities.

I call on my colleagues to bring the principle of Ujaama to the new session. Let us discuss what policies we can adopt to support the development and preservation of homeownership across the great State of New York. 

I wish you and your family a happy Kwanzaa and look forward to the new legislative session.

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery represents Brooklyn’s 25th State Senatorial covering the neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Red Hook, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Sunset Park, Gowanus, and Park Slope.  

This op-ed was written with Katrell Lewis, Habitat for Humanity NYC, Senior Advocacy Manager.