Land Trust Cultivates North Minneapolis Ownership

Qannani Omar, Photo Sarah Whiting

Historically, banks and government sources do not allocate enough funding to strengthen marginalized communities. One solution to this lack of funding is to enable co-op trusts to develop resources to purchase, build, and maintain commercial and residential properties.

The Partnership in Property Community Land Trust (PIPCLT) is one such organization. PIPCLT has begun to purchase commercial properties and ensure that they maintain their affordability long-term, even as the community faces gentrification pressures.

We asked board member Qannani Omar, who sits on the Membership and Community Engagement committee, to explain what they are doing, and why.

Q: Why are you investing your time with PIPCLT? What is the need being fulfilled?

Initially, when I joined the board at PIPCLT, I was a housing organizer and spent most of my time working to advance anti-displacement policies. A bulk of that work was rooted directly in housing policy, but it was clear [that] people saw their stability connected to the commercial changes in their neighborhood.

In North Minneapolis, there is a strong desire for more walkable commercial spaces in local neighborhoods. It is a transit-dependent community, and historic divestment has left neighborhoods without access to amenities like coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques, and other locally focused businesses. I met entrepreneurs who lived in the community. They had to showcase their products or services in other locations because of lack of access to affordable commercial space.

A vibrant and sustainable community cultivates a sense of neighborhood ownership. There has been a lack of that access in areas where most of the residents are Black and brown.

There are a lot of vacant buildings along the commercial corridors in North Minneapolis. Many of the owners have bought them at low prices and held them empty for years in hopes of selling them when redevelopment happens.

Decades-long conversations around the Blue Line extension project are finally beginning to actualize, but as the route selection progresses, many residents are fearful that it will be a catalyst to mass displacement of both residents and business owners.Decades-long conversations around the Blue Line extension project are finally beginning to actualize, but as the route selection progresses, many residents are fearful that it will be a catalyst to mass displacement of both residents and business owners.

These conversations in the past year helped me discover how important it is to have a multi-pronged approach to anti-displacement policies, which includes focusing on businesses. Housing will always be a priority of mine, but I am eager to expand the ecosystem of what a thriving community needs to execute our shared goal of strengthening community assets.

Q: What are the ambitions?

I have seen nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups come into communities with preconceived ideas of what is needed to “thrive.” Nearly every time, this paternalistic attitude resulted in projects that did not meet the needs of the community. In Minneapolis specifically, direct engagement and decision-making power in communities of color is a rarity. It is often done in a way that is about checking a box and telling the community what the plan is, rather than truly listening and understanding.

I am both excited and confident that PIPCLT has created a framework to end this cycle — where the community truly has a powerful and equal voice in guiding the organization to meet the goals of preserving and creating affordable commercial properties. We understand they are the true experts of what the needs and visions are for their neighborhoods.

When I worked in the Harrison [neighborhood] community, there was strong interest in having not only a grocery store, but a worker-owned cooperative store. Community members saw this model as an opportunity for local residents to have access to both fresh food and quality jobs.

The success of this organization, as well as this model of commercial property land trust, heavily depends on our ability to build relationships and trust. Each development project PIPCLT takes on will be different because each community will have its own unique needs.

Q: Is this focused on Minneapolis businesses only?

I see a future where community land trusts fundamentally change how commercial ownership works in our local community as well as nationally. Black, Indigenous, and immigrant communities in Minneapolis are not alone in being pushed out of their long-time neighborhoods. BIPOC communities nationwide are shut out of economic opportunities because of the increasingly high rent costs in commercial buildings or lack of access to capital.

Minneapolis is home to some of the worst racial disparities in the country, and there are majority BIPOC neighborhoods that have been waiting for an opportunity to house their local entrepreneurs. Membership discussions will focus on Minneapolis, but I also know more communities outside of the city are interested in working with PIPCLT. I believe we are going to create a powerful blueprint that others can look to and replicate.

We do not want to compete with other local entrepreneurs and business owners for commercial space. Our goal is to support the community by preserving these spaces to ensure BIPOC accessibility.

It is about relationships, partnerships, and trust.

Editor’s Note: PIPCLT purchased their first North Minneapolis commercial property on December 20, 2021. They are now purchasing a four-property bundle. These properties will be maintained by Northside Investment Cooperative Enterprise.