Affordable housing through pioneering Indigenous land trust

The Wiyot people, in what is known today as the Humboldt Bay Area of Northern California (U.S.A.), has a mission of exercising tribal rights for their self-government and common welfare, the protection and development of their lands and resources, and the promotion and safeguarding of their aboriginal laws. Its community land trust department Dishgamu Humboldt – which literally means Love Humboldt in Soulutluk, the Wiyot Language – is a unique model in that it is a unit within the indigenous organisation, being as such completely tribally led. The land trust has a double mission of conserving and recuperating the tribe’s land, and of environmentally and culturally restore their owned properties to respond to community needs, being the access to affordable housing the main priority identify by the Wiyot people.

This legal structure, established in 2020, is the result of decades of territorial revindications by the tribe, mainly around Tuluwat Island, near the present-day city of Eureka. Back in the 1970’ the Wiyot’s demanded the return of a city-owned portion of the island, which, being denied, resulted in continued advocacy until the tribe was able to collectively acquire a small portion of this territory in 2000. While enterprising years of environmental restorative work on the recuperated land, the tribe requested again, in 2004 and 2015, the return of the remaining city-owned portion of the island. In 2019, the city council of Eureka gave finally back the land with no title restrictions – becoming thus the first U.S. municipality in returning land to a tribe with full autonomy on its use.

In a recent article, Emily Lonko describes how the Wiyot will rehabilitate, through its community land trust, two Victorian homes and an office building into youth housing and an extensive care service facility in the city of Eureka. For this initiative, the Jaroujiji Youth Housing Project, the trust has received a state grant of $14 million to purchase the buildings. The coordinating team behind the land trust and the Wiyot people see this first project as a powerful model for the work ahead. Indeed, not only the city has returned land to the tribe: several private landowners have donated a considerable extension of forest outside Eureka, as well as a smaller portion of urban land. The trust plans to participate in the near future to a municipal call in Eureka, with two proposals for elder and family sustainable housing on city-owned spaces. In the long term, the tribe envisions continuing with its land restoration work as well as developing new areas of activity like eco villages, cooperative home ownership, low-income housing, and worker-owned cooperatives.