Georgia Landowner Academy Supports Underserved Communities in Georgia
Why this Project Matters
This program, led by the Georgia Heirs Property Law Center, is focused on addressing the challenges families face relating to heirs’ property. Heirs’ property is the untold story behind blight and generational poverty throughout Georgia. Heirs’ property refers to a home or land that passes from generation to generation without a legally designated owner. This results in ownership being divided among all living descendants in a family.
This unstable form of ownership limits a family’s ability to build generational wealth. Although African Americans had amassed 15 million acres/6 million hectares of land in the U.S. South between 1865 and 1919, today 97% of those lands have been lost, according to the Land Trust Alliance.
Forestry offers many older farmers, landowners not living on their land, and multiple generations of heirs who want to keep their land together, an opportunity to protect their land assets while generating income from their land. Managed forestry can help landowners prosper in retirement and through multiple generations. It can also be a powerful tool to help resolve heirs’ property issues and ownership questions and offers a means to help preserve the important social and cultural heritage of African American land ownership.
Why is SFI Involved?
The SFI Community Engagement Grant Program is supporting this project. It is an extension of an SFI-supported Georgia Heirs Property Law Center project from 2018. The current project has a more refined and targeted set of landowners, taking the project beyond education to provide land title and deed support. Through the Georgia Landowner Academy, the Georgia Heirs Property Law Center engages new, inexperienced, and underserved landowners in an SFI-aligned technical assistance program. This helps prepare them to develop land management plans, engage the U.S. Forest Service, the Georgia Forestry Commission, and other professionals. Ultimately, the project will help families sustainably manage their forestland as an asset that builds generational wealth.
SFI is committed to identifying ways to support engaging African American forest owners in the U.S. South, including through land retention. SFI, as an organization that stands for future forests, believes we can collaborate to help keep forests as forests and ensure that they are responsibly managed to provide conservation values as well as financial benefits to the African Americans who own these forestlands.
How the Project Builds SFI Community Engagement
This project leverages the engagement of the Georgia SFI Implementation Committee, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the University of Georgia, Fort Valley Cooperative Extension and Clemson University. Together, they work with project participants on best forest management practices that align with SFI standards.
The Georgia Property Law Center provides extensive services to underserved rural communities and maintains an intentional focus on multiple generational and minority landowners. These are priorities shared with SFI. Since being established 2015, the Center, solely or in collaboration with nonprofit and governmental partners, has conducted 167 community outreach programs, trainings, and stakeholder meetings in 35 counties and trained approximately 5,580 individuals throughout Georgia to increase understanding of heirs’ property. The Center has completed 67 estate plans for clients. The Center, in collaboration with private attorneys and pro bono title companies, has reviewed titles for 157 tracts of land collectively valued at over $10 million.
This partnership includes lawyers, researchers, conservationists, government, and SFI Program Participants.
- Project lead: Georgia Heirs Property Law Center
- Sustainable Forestry Initiative
- Georgia SFI Implementation Committee
- Clemson University College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences
- Golden Triangle Resource Conservation and Development Council
- Fort Valley State University Cooperative Extension Program
- Georgia Forestry Commission