"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody."

- Jane Jacobs

Feature Story: Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust Brings Community to the Planning Table

Affordable housing has been a growing issue in Toronto since the federal and provincial governments terminated affordable housing programs in the 1990s.  
Households have been forced to deal with the soaring prices of housing; relocating to less sought after neighbourhoods or the suburbs; leaving Toronto to live in more affordable cities; taking on gargantuan mortgages; opting for co-housing or giving up the hope of owning a home altogether.
But other opportunities emerge when individuals choose to ban together as a community. 

Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT) is a nonprofit organization that has been set up to own land on behalf of the community. In the face of rising land values and the corresponding loss of public spaces, affordable and supportive housing units, and local spaces for nonprofit agencies that serve long-time residents of Parkdale, PNLT is committed to upholding the right of the local community to own and steward the land upon which it is rooted.


Community land ownership may seem like an impossible dream in one of Toronto’s most popular neighbourhoods but Joshua Barndt, Development Coordinator for PNLT (pictured right), assures us otherwise.
“In a very short time, PNLT has seen that there are a lot of opportunities for communities to own land in the market,” he says. “We have to keep saying it’s necessary and showing it’s possible. We have to keep saying it out loud and inviting other people to say it.”
Community Land Trust  (CLT) is an alternative land ownership model, neither public nor private, but community based. Through carefully established governance processes, the users (the community) get to have a say in what land is used for. In addition to that right, the community also holds a responsibility – ensuring that the land asset continues to serve the community.  It deals not just with housing, but with other community needs as well. The three priorities for PNLT are affordable housing, community gardens and open spaces, and affordable space for non-profits and small businesses.

Adapted from community-based land systems in India and Israel, the concept was first popularized by Robert Swan in 1972 in the U.S. In response to both disinvestment and gentrification, over 250 CLTs have sprung up in the States in the last four decades. While Toronto is already home to trust models for land stewardship (the Toronto Island residential community, for example), none embody full community ownership, an essential mechanism for ensuring community priorities remain at the fore, according to Barndt.
The PNLT is unique from other Toronto models in two important ways. First, it is committed to dual ownership:  the trust retains the land on behalf of the community, but buildings can be owned by individuals, non-profit developers, small businesses and others. Second, a tripartite governance structure ensures the PNLT is steered by community-based decision making. The trust’s board structure is made up of one-third core members – tenants, land users, and clients; one-third community members – people who live or work within the PNLT’s boundaries; and one-third organizational members – representatives of nonprofit organizations involved in the PNLT.
Community representatives on the board were voted in at the PNLT’s first AGM, pictured left, on October 28th. Prior to the AGM, a temporary board of 8 local non-profits had been operating since 2012 to help steward the PNLT’s current organizational structure. Barndt is excited about the diversity of the board: “We’re expanding in a healthy way. We now have new immigrant perspectives represented. We have a group of people to create an accountable organization with.”
The AGM was also significant because it brought out all levels of government. Councillor Gord Perks, Member of Parliament Arif Virani, and Member of the Legislative Assembly Cheri DiNovo each came and stayed at the meeting. All three are members of the PNLT.
When asked about the city’s involvement, Barndt explained that the Affordable Housing Office is interested in alternative models that can help preserve affordable housing stocks, and how the PNLT could work with developers, specifically around inclusionary zoning. Councillor Gord Perks has provided advice and general encouragement along the way. Barndt, pictured right, paraphrased Perks’ advice as follows: “Make your plans, get your resources together, find the right partners, the architect, the engineer and the financing. Then we’ll find a place for it…What we’re missing is the visionary idea and plans backed by resources and organizations that are committed and able to implement them.”
The lesson? In order to engage with the city, the PNLT will need to have more than its social and organizational infrastructure in place; it will need concrete development plans. While the community regularly bears witness to the sale of land and affordable housing stocks to corporate developers, Perks seems confident that when a project plan is in place, he’ll be able to utilize city funds – such as money collected from developers under Section 37 of the Planning Act to buy land. From the city’s perspective, the land is the simple part.
Hoping to publicly announce its first land acquisition before year end, the work of getting organized first and worrying about the land later has already borne fruit:  PNLT has been gifted a parcel of land by a private donor with deep roots in the neighbourhood. This land has been used as a community site for a long time through an informal arrangement with a local group.  The emergence of the PNLT means there is now an organization willing to take on long-term responsibility and steward the land’s community use into the future. This site will be used primarily for urban agriculture, one of the PNLT’s three priorities.
Barndt explains that this donor is more than a happy coincidence. “We have heard from other landlords that they want to find someone to sell to that will protect their tenants...Many landlords in Parkdale really care about their tenants and don’t want to see them displaced when they (the landlords) retire.” Currently in the process of business planning, the PNLT forecasts that these types of below market opportunities will be their ticket to more acquisitions. 

Barndt emphasized that the PNLT’s first acquisition did not occur to the group as a possibility at the outset. It was the PNLT’s building of a vision and a team of partners that surfaced the opportunity. He emphasized that the biggest asset is not land, it’s the people and the organizations that you bring together and the process of working through differences toward some shared values. In other words, if you build it, the land will come.
He notes that PNLT is not trying to do something new – PNLT is trying to support the work that others are already doing, and to help them do it better by working on getting secure, long-term access to land. “Any new urban organization that has a vision won’t work unless it can mobilize and support existing groups.”

The PNLT is connecting with the Friends of Kensington Market soon, another group looking at models to deal with commercialization and preserving affordable housing. PNLT will share their start up and ongoing story, with a reminder that all land trust models end up being different because each community’s context is unique. 

No matter where you live – in High Park or Bombay – anyone can participate and contribute. The PNLT’s newest level of membership is Supporter, which is open to anyone interested in the work of the group. Volunteers who live outside of Parkdale support much of the research and organizing for PNLT. Supporters are invited to join subcommittees and participate in workshops; they are not given the right to vote at AGMs or to sit on the board. 
Reporting Back on YIMBY 2015: Unity Our Strength
At the 8th Annual YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) Festival, Shape My City brought 105 community-building organizations, over 700 members of the public, 6 city Councillors, and Mayor Tory together under one roof. The buzz was testament to the strength of networks, vision, and possibilities for Toronto's future. 
Shape My City was honoured to host a space for Toronto's change makers to come together and find each other from across the city, from environmentalists to heritage advocates, with accessibility and youth organizers, and residents associations in between.

Thanks to all those who came out to make the day such a success! Photos from the day are available here.

We will be keeping the momentum going and the connections strong with a workshop and networking day for community organizers in March 2016. We are currently recruiting co-planners for that event. Interested? Send an email to info[at]
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Toronto, Help Shape COP21

World leaders are about to meet in Paris for the Twenty-First Conference of Parties (COP21), running November 30 - December 11, to negotiate the next, and most critical, international climate change agreement. On November 29th, the People's Climate Movement, together with other groups and individuals concerned about climate change, are holding an event at Queen´s Park From Toronto To Paris: Light the Way To Climate Action as part of the global day of climate action to launch COP21. This mobilization however, is not just about a single day of action. The organizers have set up a project on Shape My City, GTA COP21: Climate Action from Toronto to Paris to encourage people to organize COP21-related events in their neighbourhoods and communities. The plan is to support events happening all over the GTA in the lead up to, and during, COP21 by sharing them widely through social media and posting them on the Shape My City events calendar with the hashtag #GTACOP21.
Supporting Syrian Refugees on
A new and noteworthy initiative has been added to Shape My City. WelcomeHomeTO is an open space for people in Toronto who are already, or are planning to support Syrian refugees. Community members are invited to share useful resources, pose questions, challenges, strategies, opportunities for collaboration. Join the project to get connected to an emerging group of supporters and people actively involved in helping Syrian refugees arrive and settle into community in Toronto.

Events that #ShapeTO

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