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Susan Saegert
Campus Affiliation: Graduate Center
Degrees/Diplomas: Ph.D., University of Michigan
Research Interests: Community Land Trusts,  Affordable Housing and Alternative Ownership Forms, Pragmatist approaches to geography and psychology, Gender and Space
NSF Grant Abstract
Interrupting Place-based Inequality: Building Sustainable Communities through Shared Equity Homeownership
This study of Community Land Trusts (CLTs) investigates changes in resident’s economic, cultural, and social capital as well as the stability and well being of communities. Forms of capital are seen as dependent on social relations and institutions and not personal possessions that can be stored by individuals out of context. CLTs offer a collective form of land ownership that removes land from the speculative market and privileges use value over exchange value. CLTs provide quality affordable housing through shared equity and institutional arrangements that directly and indirectly provide access to economic, social and cultural capital within an institutional arrangement that limits risk and exposure to the insecurity of the market.  CLTs partially challenge commodification of land.  They are actually existing alternatives within a capitalist society that aim to place people’s ontological security and daily needs over commodification and profit. Looking beyond the individual, this study examines the extent to which CLTs are associated with increased community stability and wellbeing.
Homeowners in two geographically dispersed CLTs serving ethnically and economically diverse low- and moderate -income populations will be surveyed along with comparison groups of other similar households seeking homeownership. The survey and organizational intake records will be used to examine how CLT homeownership affects household finances (economic capital), educational levels (cultural capital), community engagement (social capital), and sense of stability, safety and ability to move one’s life forward (ontological security).  Using multi-level models, individual and census data will be analyzed to better understand the community contexts of CLT and non-CLT households and to see how communities are affected by the presence of CLT homes. Census, housing and school data at the census tract level will be used to spatially examine the efficacy of CLT place-making and positive neighborhood effects by comparing previous respondent addresses to CLT and non-CLT present locations.
Despite decades of affordable housing policies, stable and sustainable housing for low-income households is scarce and inequality is at an all-time high. The theoretical assumption of decades of low-income housing policy presumes that either market rate homeownership or relocation to more capital rich locations will facilitate the accumulation of economic, cultural and social capital.  Missing from this model are formal economic and institutional arrangements that connect households to both social and economic capital. Indeed, non-CLT low-income homeownership has often ended in financial losses, foreclosure, a return to renting, or negative home equity. Relocating low- income households to higher income communities has proven difficult to do and successful only under limited conditions. Households of color and female-headed households have especially suffered from these policy failures. This study proceeds from an alternate analysis of the requirements for increased accumulation of different forms of capital. The institutional supports and obligations of CLTs and their community benefits are seen as critical in creating the conditions for the accumulation of economic, cultural and social capital by introducing stability into the lives of poor households and producing communities permanently accessible to and supportive of these households. This study is timely and would enlighten debates around how to balance public and private interests in housing, how to make the most of public subsidies, and how to integrate housing provision and community development.