Making Change with Trust: Ujima sits down with Kensington Corridor Trust

Kensington Corridor Trust staff and volunteers in Philly, PA.

Earlier this year, Kensington Corridor Trust (KCT) became an Ujima Translocal Member. Cierra Peters, Ujima’s Director of Communications, sat down with Adriana Abizadeh, Executive Director of Kensington Corridor Trust, to talk about the translocal membership program, cooperative investments, and making change with trust.

Thank you, first of all, for joining me today. We’re so happy to be chatting with you. Tell us a little bit about you. How are you arriving today?

Adriana Abizadeh: Thank you. So I’m Adriana, Executive Director of the Kensington Corridor Trust. We’re based in Philly, PA. We actually just moved into our first office today, and we had two new fellows begin with us. So we’re excited about that. And the AC is working, which makes me happy.

Can you tell us about KCT?

Kensington Corridor Trust was formed back in 2019. We are a neighborhood trust. We purchase real estate on Kensington Avenue and place it into a trust for the neighborhood to directly govern and control. They are decision-makers. They are the ones who decide what KCT is acquiring and what we are developing. And, most importantly, how we are reactivating those assets for the collective benefit of the neighborhood versus the individualized benefit that so often accompanies capitalism and real estate.

To date, KCT has acquired 13 assets, most of which are vacant lots. We have a 14th currently under agreement. We are [currently] moving to do our first new construction. We are also in the process of moving to do our first set of leasing because we just acquired some buildings recently that were lease-ready.

We steward an 11-lot community garden that’s held inside of the trust. And that has been an activation in green space for convening and gathering on the corridor. That has been really wonderful to see grow and evolve over the last 18 months or so.

When you’re rooted in trust, it is much easier to build power. And the neighborhood trust structure is really about building power. Yes, we are protecting [neighborhood] real estate. Yes, we are preserving affordability, but we’re really saying is community control. [But what] we’re really saying [is] neighborhood wealth building. [What] we’re really saying [is] alternative forms of capital.

Why did you decide to come to the Translocal Membership Program?

Well, primarily because I love y’all. It feels like a really good way for the organizations to be interconnected, and to continue to learn and grow from each other and support each other.

We’re both doing difficult work in a difficult space. And I think having additional allies and support can never be harmful. We want to be in community with you all and learn from y’all as we’ve continued to do so from a distance.

And then on the other end is the support and the learning that we have [to share]. We’ve gotten pretty good at attracting capital, understanding how to develop systems around sustainability, and ensuring that there’s a mission and value fit and that there are equitable pathways and processes in the ways that we’re making decisions.

What would you say has been your favorite moment at KCT thus far?

My favorite moment thus far, which is definitely like a series of moments, would be when we transitioned our governance to be entirely neighborhood-led. So when I first came to KCT, it was institution-led. So KCT was formed by four institutions in the neighborhood, all of which have a long-standing history of working in this neighborhood.

But the folks who were at the power table were not representative of the neighborhoods. Not socio-economically, not gender-wise, [or] race-wise. And so, we decided to undergo a year-long transition in two phases for the folks who were part of the founding board and founding institutions to roll off and make space for residents and small business owners to roll on.

KCT talks about trust a lot. Why is trust so integral to your process?

So I think there are a couple of reasons. I’m an organizer by background. I’m deeply rooted in neighborhood power, just by way of my own ethos. Acknowledging that we can only work at the pace of trust, and that trust takes time has been integral to our work. We have been willing [to understand that] sometimes we’re gonna have to slow down. What some other folks might be able to just make a decision are in a boardroom. That’s not how KCT operates. We’re going to have larger conversations and discussions, more people are going to be brought into the fold, we’re going to go and do our research, and we’re going to call folks up before that decision is made.

When you’re rooted in trust, it is much easier to build power. And the neighborhood trust structure is really about building power. There’s power that already exists inside of this neighborhood. There are folks who have already been organizing and advocating for it for a long time long before I ever came along, long before KCT was ever thought of. How does KCT support those organizers, those neighborhood leaders, and those folks who are just everyday residents in utilizing their voices to advocate for what they need? I think that is the basis of what KCT is.

Yes, we are protecting [neighborhood] real estate. Yes, we are preserving affordability, but we’re really saying is community control. [But what] we’re really saying [is] neighborhood wealth building. [What] we’re really saying [is] alternative forms of capital.

The last thing is that neighborhoods like Kensington have been the testing grounds for so many things. So many different efforts, initiatives, nonprofits, interventions, social benefits, whatever you want to call them. And oftentimes those ones fail. Every time one of those things fails, it fails the neighborhood, right?

So it’s not just the entity or the intervention, or whatever the testing thing was, there’s a much larger ripple effect and impact. And so it’s critical that KCT come at it from a standpoint of we have time. We have to make time, we have to make time to have important conversations, and to ensure that folks are really a part of the process. Not feel like they’re part of the process. [We make sure] that their voices are heard, and that the outcomes that are driven are based on their desires, what they wanted and needed, not an entity making decisions on behalf of a neighborhood. ◼︎

The Kensington Corridor Trust (KCT) seeks to foster the equitable economic revitalization of a commercial corridor and its surrounding neighborhood through local partnerships, strategic programming, and an innovative approach to moving real estate assets out of the speculative private market. Leveraging patient, flexible capital, and a long-term trust vehicle, the KCT intends to de-commodify real estate assets and transition them to neighborhood control. KCT introduces neighborhood-based property control for long-term, equitable revitalization of a key commercial corridor.

The Ujima Translocal Membership is an action-oriented initiative to support peers outside of Boston in getting closer to creating economic democracy ecosystems where they are. Membership in the Translocal Program is by invitation only.

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THE BOSTON UJIMA PROJECT is organizing neighbors, workers, business owners and investors to create a new community controlled economy in Boston.