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Public Land for People, Not Policing: Developing Policy Pathways for Reparative Justice through Community-Based Research

Jakob Schneider, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Hayoung Jeong, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Recently, movements for racial justice have gained momentum and called for redirecting police budgets to critical community needs including healthcare, education, housing, and other social services. But, in New York City, there is another valuable and underrecognized resource beyond the budget that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has control over: vacant and underutilized land. Given the current housing crisis - exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and likely to worsen as evictions tick ever upward - this land could be put to use to provide safe, quality, and permanently affordable housing or other community-determined uses. Our research, undertaken in collaboration with East New York Community Land Trust (ENYCLT), focuses on building a policy framework for transferring these underutilized parcels to community ownership, what we term “reparative land justice.”

ENY CLT uses the CLT model as a concrete strategy to address the absence of community decision-making regarding land use and development, speculative real estate investment, and “colorblind” city planning that fuel racialized housing crises. CLTs are non-profit organizations that collectively own and steward the land held in trust. The community ownership and governance structures of the CLT provide for community control of land use and foster community-led planning and development.

A lack of community control over land is central to the current crises in the East New York and Brownsville neighborhoods, where residents of color have been historically disenfranchised by redlining, blockbusting, and public and private disinvestment and continues today through predatory real estate investment. Racialized policing has played a key role in shaping and maintaining these historical and ongoing housing crises. East New York’s 75th Precinct reports the highest police misconduct complaints and lawsuits (Willis et al., 2020), while Brownsville’s 73rd Precinct was called ‘ground zero’ for NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policing (Orr, 2010). Based on our analysis, the neighborhoods rank 2nd and 3rd for the greatest number of NYPD parking or vacant lots in the City, and near the top for evictions, foreclosure, and predatory home loans (ANHD, 2021). By transferring NYPD lots to community ownership, ENY CLT seeks to curb immediate displacement and build generational and shared wealth.

ENYCLT is working with the citywide coalition of CLTs, the New York City Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI), on the “Public Land in Public Hands'' campaign to demand community ownership of vacant public land. As part of this effort, we have identified over 8 million buildable square feet of residentially zoned NYPD vacant land and parking lots that could accommodate over 10,000 housing units. Over 50 of these lots are located in the heavily and violently policed neighborhoods of Brownsville and East New York that ENYCLT serves.

As part of a larger participatory action research (PAR) project led by ENYCLT members, the SPSSI grant will allow us to identify how NYC’s land disposition policy can be reformulated to accommodate community-led planning efforts such as ENYCLT’s. This is a critical step as there is limited information on how community-led efforts can initiate the land acquisition process generally, and no information on how this might occur with NYPD land specifically.


ANHD. (2021). How is affordable housing threatened in your neighborhood? Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development.

Orr, M. (2010, July 11). Stop and Frisk in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The New York Times.

Willis, D., Umansky, E., and Syed, M. (2020, July 26). The NYPD Files: Search Thousands of Civilian Complaints Against New York City Police Officers. ProPublica.

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