Community Is a Moving Target in Los Angeles

Empowerment is the ultimate response to displacement: perpetual affordability in a process that gives folks a stake in discussions and in an economy from which they are usually shut out.

T.R.U.S.T. South LA’s definition of “community,” while always rooted in giving voice to community residents, has evolved over time. In 2003, our land trust was first conceptualized by faith leaders, community organizers, and neighborhood activists who were experiencing the early gentrification in our neighborhoods, situated between a land-greedy private university and the “rediscovered” downtown Los Angeles. They studied anti-displacement strategies, were inspired by Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, and decided that community land control was essential to counter speculative real estate practices and create a long-term solution.

It wasn’t until organizing a formal membership several years later that T.R.U.S.T.’s second “community” developed: strong, spirited, unwavering grassroots folks who were stirred by a vision not only of defending their neighborhoods, but of proactive investment and community-controlled initiatives. Led by immigrant Latinas, they committed months of study and dialogue to crafting a Statement of Principles that emphasized building consciousness, care of our Earth, cultivating a local economy, advancing youth leadership, inclusion, flexibility, transparency, ethical delegation of responsibilities, and collective decision-making. As T.R.U.S.T. raised funds for land acquisition and established affordable housing partnerships, these principles became the organization’s root system.

“Community” evolved again during an organizing campaign against a slumlord who was displacing low-income, predominantly African American and Black immigrant tenants to make way for university students and the anticipated housing demand propelled by new light rail. As a majority Latinx organization, T.R.U.S.T. devoted several years—amidst the fight for control of land—to the challenge of integrating T.R.U.S.T., promoting cooperation and community-building between populations that historically experienced conflict and discord. It has been critical for residents to consider the economic imperative of working together to address the housing affordability and displacement crisis along with inequality in access to transportation, mobility and environmental health threats in their community, a united front empowering them to cooperatively address issues of common concern to the working class and poor.

Empowerment has a transformational effect that spills over into personal lives and encourages intersectional understanding of issues. As an example, T.R.U.S.T. has had a visible impact on leadership development of young folks through a bike-riding project which is organizing disguised as a recreational activity, attracting and nurturing young leaders. These young people, along with their parents, are becoming activists addressing climate change, integrating with environmental and racial justice concerns, participating in a big picture climate justice fight, and improving their quality of life.

T.R.U.S.T. is entering yet another phase of maturity, poised to propagate a community land trust model by intervening in the speculative market and acquiring occupied multi-family buildings to be preserved through collective resident ownership. This model preserves affordability, but also enacts a power shift that effectively raises community expectations of what is possible, taking people who were once victims of gentrification and developing empowered creators of their own destiny. This empowerment is the ultimate response to displacement: perpetual affordability in a process that gives folks a stake in discussions and in an economy from which they are usually shut out.

Josefina Aguilar is the executive director of T.R.U.S.T. South LA. Josefina was born and raised in Los Angeles and has over 25 years of experience in city planning, focusing on community development and affordable housing for families and seniors.
Sandra McNeill is T.R.U.S.T. South LA's former executive director.


  1. Hello, I have been reading up a little bit on T.R.U.S.T. South LA’s projects and initiatives and been wondering how the Community Mosaic Demonstration Project is coming along?

    • Hi Marius, thanks for your question. Community Mosaic has completed the lead abatement work and has begun the tenant engagement and capacity-building process leading to resident control/resident ownership conversion. Because this process is grounded in principles of democratic control, the residents are making decisions around community cooperative living standards & ground rules, rehabilitation needs planning & budgeting, and other neighborhood improvements and “good neighbor” policies. The tenants meet on a monthly basis. For more information, please feel free to contact Oscar Monge, Community Development Manager,


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