(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?

What makes a conference great?  Is it the quality of the presentations?  How well the conference is organized? Or is it the little things that make the difference, like the comfort of the chairs and the quality of the food? The range and relevance of the sessions being offered obviously tops the list, but there’s another factor that often gets overlooked: the participants.  The National Community Land Trust (CLT) Network’s annual conference at the end of April brought together CLT practitioners from around the country and abroad for what has been described as a “big family reunion.”    “When people here give you their cards,” someone explained, “you know you can really call them afterwards when you need help.”  This year, as part of its expanded strategic goal to support all types of homeownership programs with lasting affordability, the Network invited some extended family members – practitioners from deed-restricted housing programs and city/county government agencies – to the reunion.

For several years, as part of our long-standing partnership with the Network, Cornerstone has sponsored and participated in the annual conference.  To that end, we sent a group staff and consultants to Cleveland to lead sessions on topics such as HomeKeeper training, data and impact reporting. stewardship standards, and inclusionary housing policies. We also helped Network staff facilitate a small workshop on the last afternoon of the conference (resisting our urge to sneak off to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). On that day, practitioners from non-CLT programs and the Network’s board members discussed their work around inclusionary housing — making common cause, sharing challenges, and brainstorming ways to overcome those challenges. The energy in the room was high and the results were compelling:

Common ground:  Despite differences in program type and design, practitioners quickly found shared values around serving people priced out of homes in their housing markets, preserving long-term affordability, promoting resident and neighborhood stability, and helping households better themselves financially.  There was also widespread agreement on preserving and growing public investment and the need for ongoing involvement to responsibly oversee homes for the long term.  Whether this ongoing involvement is called “stewardship” or “asset management,” the principle is the same.

Culture clash:  The language used by CLTs for the work they do sometimes seems very foreign to other types of programs. Where CLTs see themselves as advocates and facilitators, other types of programs can see themselves as regulators.  Where CLTs talk about community building, other types of programs talk about not putting extra burdens or obligations on buyers of deed-restricted homes.  Where CLTs talk about love, other types of programs talk about… well… not using the word “love” to describe what they do.  Despite these differences, there was recognition of value in both approaches.

Information is power:  People want a way to access the information they need when they need it.  In return, they’re willing to share their own expertise with their peers.  Among the ideas for new tools and resources proposed were regional convenings (within driving distance) for training and peer sharing without high travel costs, a directory of practitioners by expertise willing to participate in peer exchange, a library of Inclusionary ordinances, information about legal precedents related to inclusionary housing policy, information about potential dedicated funding sources for long-term affordable housing, and many others.

Tell us what you think – We had such a rich discussion at the conference that we’d like to continue it with you.  What do you think about this conversation?  Where do practitioners of different types of long-term affordable homeownership programs have greatest need for common ground?  What tools, resources, or platforms for communication would most help you?  If you have comments, suggestions, or requests, we’d like to hear from you in the comments below.

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