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North Central Revival: What is a 'community land trust' and why is the city considering it?

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Considered a potential solution for Canada’s housing crisis, the City of Regina is now looking at creating a community land trust to help one of its underserved neighbourhoods: North Central.

The idea is just one piece of the puzzle that is North Central revitalization, a task being headed up in part by a group of recent graduates from Scott Collegiate, known as North Central Strong.

"We are an underserved community,” said Marc Nuevo, a member of North Central Strong. “My vision is a happy, healthy and safe community. It's easier to say, but with little steps, we can do it."

The goal of a community land trust is to acquire, develop, and steward permanently affordable housing and land while ensuring that affordable housing continues to exist for people already living in the neighbourhood.

In North Central’s case, an emphasis is being placed on giving people a real pathway to home ownership.

“People can rent to own their own house, there isn’t that many homeowners in North Central,” said Hope Henderson, also a member of North Central Strong. “Which is why I think there’s so many boarded up houses and stuff like that.”

“They don’t care for it as their own.”

Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway, a long time North Central resident and advocate, loves living in the community but believes something needs to be done about abandoned and vacant homes. She sees the community land trust as a great initiative if managed properly.

“I know it’s not good for the community to have all these boarded up houses,” BigEagle-Kequahtooway said. “One of the biggest issues that Regina is facing is housing, and the high price of housing, so that would be a great initiative in the right hands.”

(Cole Davenport / CTV News)

According to the Canadian Network of Community Land Trusts, there are more than 40 active community land trusts across Canada, but this would be the first of its kind in a Saskatchewan urban setting.

Jeremy Parnes, a local rabbi, has past experience working with a similar initiative in the United Kingdom, known as a housing trust.

One difference between the two initiatives is the community's involvement in governance.

"It changes lives, there's no question. It changes communities,” Parnes said. “If you give these people the space and allow them to speak their truths, and then respond to it accordingly, it will change the landscape."

Potential opportunities

Another goal for North Central Strong is creating more opportunities for young people.

“Growing up, all I’ve ever seen is fast food jobs, so it could differ a lot from what I’ve seen,” said Jacob Panipekeesick, another member of North Central Strong.

Parnes believes a community land trust can help with that, too.

“We helped establish two renovation companies from tenants who were staying in our properties, who we helped to train, then started their companies and trained others in the community so it was a community building itself,” he said.

In an update Thursday, the City of Regina said the overall revitalization remains in the planning stages. All actions discussed at the Feb. 14 meeting will return to council in four months time, including the creation of the community land trust.

The youth say that while they’re looking forward to helping the neighbourhood find its brighter future, the community today is already a place where people look out for each other.

“You can go across the street, or walking down the street and ask someone if they have a phone to use or something, and they’ll happily give it to you,” said Hope Henderson, one member of North Central Strong. “A lot of people are ready to help others in need.”

“We need more youth to know it’s not just about trying to move out of this neighbourhood, it’s about what we can do to make it better,” BigEagle-Kequahtooway said. “This is a good neighbourhood, let’s work together to make it better.”

BigEagle-Kequahtooway and Parnes both say it’s great to see young people getting involved.

“We hear you, we support you, and if we need to, we’ll step out of the way to just let you go and do what you need to do too,” BigEagle-Kequahtooway said.

“I’m an old guy, these are young folk. I’m just delighted that they’re doing it,” Parnes said. “It’s not for me, it’s for them.”

While city officials work on the bigger plan, the youth are staying focused on one project for now: improving a local park.

Tyneesha Eaglechild said that like many kids in the neighbourhood, she had to grow up fast. That’s not a reality she wants today’s kids to face.

“Seeing all these broken down parks, none of them have been updated,” Eaglechild told CTV News. “It’d be better to have something brand new in our community, instead of having the same old, same old.”

"It was just a concept at first, but now it's like a reality," Nuevo said.

With more time and continued efforts from the community and the city, the concept of charting a new path forward for North Central can also become a reality.

- With files from Michaela Solomon

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