Building a New Community and Economic Development Framework


On May 7th, 2015, our trustees and staff explored East Harlem where a number of new economic strategies are intersecting. We learned about several aspects of the sharing economy by examining the neighborhood’s community land trust pilot project and the growing cooperative development sector.



Community-Based Cooperatives and Community Land Trusts

As the cost of housing in New York City increases, the percentage of an individual’s income typically spent on housing continues to skyrocket. When it comes to city policies, definitions of “affordability” rarely take into account what’s affordable to New Yorkers with extremely low incomes. More than half of all renters in the Bronx, for example, pay unaffordable rents, and one out of every four households spend more than half of their incomes on rent. In neighborhoods throughout the city, particularly neighborhoods of color, tens of thousands of New Yorkers face foreclosure and financial ruin, often due to predatory mortgage lending, and the foreclosure crisis has led to the displacement of thousands of homeowners and tenants. As a result of this housing crisis, New York City is experiencing record levels of homelessness.


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Click here to read the Picture the Homeless report, “Homeless People Count: Vacant Properties in Manhattan”

The report, prepared in collaboration with the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, describes how thousands of vacant properties remain undeveloped, despite a rise in the numbers of people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes.

A growing number of advocates are calling for the city to establish a policy whereby land titles for all existing and newly created affordable housing and all city-owned vacant lots and buildings be transferred to community land trusts, and that mechanisms be created for privately owned property to be “gifted” to a community land trust.

As the community land trust model gains ground, a vision for a community-led “solidarity economy” has captured the attention of a new generation of progressive New Yorkers. Local residents envision an economic system that is based on values of social and racial justice, ecological sustainability, cooperation, mutualism, and democracy. They are putting this vision into action by creating and sustaining worker cooperatives, community development credit unions, low-income housing and food co-ops, community gardens, and land trusts. Through democratically-structured local institutions, marginalized New Yorkers, including new immigrants, women, people of color, and returning citizens, aim to win some control over their workplace, housing, finance, land use, and food.

New York Foundation trustee Victor Quintana (left) talks with Picture the Homeless executive director Lynn Lewis on a walking tour of East Harlem.


Featured Grantees


Picture the Homeless


Picture the Homeless, founded in 1999, believes that people without a place to live must become an organized, informed, and effective force in order to create the political and public will to end homelessness. Today, the group’s members lead campaigns calling for reform of policies that affect the lives of New Yorkers without homes. A New York Foundation start-up grant helped the organization hire its first full-time staff.

In 2003, staff had identified hundreds of abandoned buildings within walking distance of their East Harlem office. Members questioned why people were being arrested for sleeping in public spaces when there were hundreds of abandoned or warehoused units. After the mayor denied its request for a citywide count of abandoned buildings, Picture the Homeless decided to follow the lead of such cities as Boston and St. Louis and conduct a count themselves. In 2007, with the support of city council members and the Manhattan borough president and his staff, funding from several foundations and individuals, and the legwork of nearly 200 volunteers, Picture the Homeless completed its research and released a report called Homeless People Count: Vacant Properties in Manhattan. The report identified 1,723 vacant buildings with 11,170 empty units and 505 vacant lots. Between the empty units and vacant lots, 24,000 potential apartments could be rehabbed and developed. As a result of these findings, Picture the Homeless started a campaign to combat warehousing and convert the lots and units into affordable housing for homeless and low-income New Yorkers.


New Economy Project


Founded in 1995 with seed funding from the New York Foundation, the New Economy Project (formerly Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project) has established itself as a leading organization in the area of economic and financial justice advocacy. New Economy Project uses a combination of strategies: community education and outreach, legal assistance and impact litigation, policy research and advocacy, shareholder action, and communications. With New Economy Project’s assistance, New York City nonprofits have secured funding for affordable housing development and preservation, established community-development lending vehicles, and obtained investments and loans for local small businesses. New Economy Project has played a pivotal role in exposing discriminatory and predatory lending practices, and has pressed for corporate and regulatory accountability in low-income communities. In 2006, a Foundation grant was used to support the NYC Immigrant Financial Justice Network. Our last grant to New Economy Project supported its campaign to end discriminatory financial services and credit-reporting practices that systematically impede economic opportunity and prevent payday lending in New York.


Who We Met


lynn-circle Lynn Lewis
Executive Director, Picture the Homeless
Lynn Lewis has worked with Picture the Homeless since its founding, and has been the executive director since 2003. Ms.Lewis has worked extensively on police abuse of people who are homeless with a particular focus on the selective enforcementof Quality of Life ordinances by the New York Police Department. She is on the steering committee of Communities United forPolice Reform. Ms. Lewis has worked in the social justice movement for over 30 years in a range of capacities in organizationsand initiatives led by poor people.
sarah-circle Sarah Ludwig
Founder and Co-Director, New Economy Project
Sarah Ludwig launched the New Economy Project in 1995 and is recognized nationally as a leading advocate on a wide rangeof economic justice matters. Ms. Ludwig received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Next Generation Leadership fellowship; theUnion Square Award; the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World award; New York Lawyers for the PublicInterest’s Felix A. Fishman Award; and Chhaya’s Architect of Change award. She serves on the board of the Center forResponsible Lending. Ms. Ludwig received degrees in law and urban planning from New York University and teaches a courseon community equity in NYU’s urban planning program.
dey-circle Deyanira Del Rio
Co-Director, New Economy Project
Deyanira Del Rio leads the New Economy Project’s financial justice and economic inclusion work through policy change,coalition organizing, community education, and development of community loan funds. She serves as board chair of both theLower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions. Ms.Del Rio received the Mujeres Destacadas (Outstanding Women) award from New York’s El Diario/La Prensa, and was selectedfor the Coro Immigrant Civic Leadership Project and Revson Fellowship. She began her work at the New Economy Project asa summer intern supported by the New York Foundation’s Summer Internship in Community Organizing.