Land Loss Prevention Project
For the next month, NFFC is featuring the Land Loss Prevention Project.
LLPP was founded in 1982 by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers to curtail epidemic losses of Black-owned land in their state. They were incorporated in North Carolina in 1983 and broadened their mission in 1993 to provide legal support and assistance to all financially distressed and limited-resource farmers and landowners in North Carolina. Their work is especially critical now as their clients face significant loss during the COVID-19 pandemic yet will likely not qualify for economic and programmatic assistance due to their small scale and lack of internet access to receive and transmit essential information required for USDA and SBA applications.
LLPP’s efforts are divided between legal advocacy, public policy, and promoting sustainable agriculture and environment. Legal advocacy typically involves debt restructuring for farmers in crisis, foreclosure defense and other legal strategies to protect the ownership and beneficial use of land resources. In the public policy arena, LLPP monitors the impact that agriculture policy has on the state’s small family farmers. Finally, LLPP helps family farmers and landowners develop environmentally friendly and economically viable agricultural practices while fighting environmental inequities experienced by communities across North Carolina. This is often done in partnership with other grassroots organizations using legal and policy-oriented strategies to advocate for limited resource farmers and communities to promote equitable and sustainable development.
Environmental justice is a broad concept often associated with advocacy toward equity in environmental protection that involves federal and state environmental laws and federal civil rights statutes. Environmental justice issues impact access to land, full use of the land, and the ability to develop or retain land. In this way, environmental justice serves as a fulcrum for economic development, land retention, and political participation. Wrapped up in one issue are barriers affecting a community’s or individual’s ability to use a certain property, the property’s worth, and mobilizing to request or demand change.
Communities of color have for many years borne the burden of racism in social, political, and economic forms as well as direct physical forms. The basic human rights to life and health are violated by the polluting industries that operate with impunity in communities comprised of people of color or surviving on lower incomes. Environmental racism often forces people off the land (if they have money to relocate) and freezes local economic development.
In addition to environmental racism, a significant contributor to Black land loss is the land ownership structure known as heir property. Historically, rural African American farmers often failed to prepare wills before they died. In the absence of a proper will, state laws governed how the farmers' land was passed on to their heirs upon their death, meaning that interests in that land were often passed on to a large number of people classified as "heirs" in the eyes of the courts, and if those heirs pass on without a will, their ownership interest in the land was passed on to their heirs. Ownership of small acreages of property then becomes divided among, potentially, hundreds of people, which has facilitated Black land loss very quickly; in the 50 years following the Emancipation of slaves, African Americans in the South acquired an estimated 15 million acres of land, but today own only about two million acres of land.
Having a will and a deed, and keeping property taxes up to date, are vital steps for retaining land and for passing it on to the next generation to “…preserve one of North Carolina’s most valuable resources, the family farm,” as former NC Governor J.B. Hunt stated. The Land Loss Prevention Project provides legal assistance offered free of charge to landowners across the state to understand the best ways to protect their ownership interests in land-whether they are the sole owner or one of a group. LLPP attorneys work with families to determine the state of title to the land and then find solutions to protect the property, manage it during their lifetimes, and make decisions for how to pass on the land.
The Land Loss Prevention Project attorneys also work with individuals who are facing foreclosure proceedings. Whether homeowner or farmer, finding oneself behind on loan or mortgage payments can create immense amounts of stress and uncertainty. Having access to legal services offered at no cost can provide peace of mind as people sort out and advocate for the solution that best benefits their family.