In the wake of the pandemic and the ongoing struggle for racial justice, community ownership of land, housing, and other critical resources has drawn increased attention as a strategy to build community power and repair ongoing harms caused by centuries of racism and extractive development. Many excellent resources exist on these topics, and are increasingly highlighting powerful efforts led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities that continue long traditions of cooperation, mutual aid, and community care. But comparatively little has been written about community ownership of commercial space, despite its potential to address many of the inequities that BIPOC-led small businesses and community-based organizations face.
This report adds to a growing area of interest by summarizing existing research and providing case studies of five established and emerging commercial community ownership projects working to preserve community-serving businesses, build community wealth, and promote community-led economic development from within. Achieving these broader goals depends not just on what model groups pursue, but also on how meaningful community capacity, leadership, and power are built over time, with attention to the ways that commercial development differs from affordable housing or mixed-used projects. Regardless of the specific form they take, community ownership models are not themselves the endpoint, but tools for repairing longstanding harms and promoting just development without displacement through reshaping relationships between people, place, power, and property.1
The five case studies featured in the report suggest some important lessons for community development and community ownership movements, in realizing these broader goals: