Community land trusts

Evidence Rating  
Some Evidence
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Community in Action

Community land trusts (CLTs) are private, non-profit organizations that purchase land to lease to residents with low and middle incomes for housing use. CLTs separate ownership of the home and the land it occupies, which reduces the size of a mortgage and lowers monthly mortgage payments1. The land the home is on is leased to homeowners as part of a long-term ground lease, typically for 99 years2, 3. CLT agreements require homes be owner occupied and stipulate that the home may not be rented out or “flipped” by renovating it for quick resale4. As part of their shared-equity agreement, homeowners on CLT-owned land are required to sell the home back to the CLT or to another resident with low income at an affordable price when they decide to move4, 5, 6. CLTs may also purchase and hold land to support community development, open space efforts, community gardens, and similar initiatives7, 8. CLTs often include stewardship activities such as teaching expectant and new homeowners about finances, alerting them to high risk loans, and assisting potentially delinquent homeowners9.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased housing stability

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased access to affordable housing
  • Improved neighborhood quality

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that community land trusts (CLTs) increase housing stability and decrease rates of foreclosure and payment delinquency for CLT homeowners9, 10, 11, 12. CLTs are a suggested strategy to minimize the displacement of residents with low incomes that can follow neighborhood improvements such as community investments in affordable housing, transit, and community properties2, 10, 13. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

By restricting sales to families who meet income requirements, CLTs increase access to affordable housing for households with low and moderate incomes8, 9, 10, 11, 12. CLTs may also preserve affordable housing options for future homebuyers with low incomes when the current homeowners sell8, 12, and retain affordable multi-unit housing options for renters14. CLTs can retain affordable housing in perpetuity, often beyond the duration of inclusionary zoning ordinances7.

CLTs may help avoid frequent moves for households with low incomes, retaining consistency in children’s schooling and avoiding move-associated costs3. In a Minneapolis-based study, CLT homeowners report that their increased housing stability enabled them to pursue new educational or employment opportunities and take advantage of the CLT’s homeowner education programs1. CLTs have also been associated with neighborhood improvements and other positive community developments8, 10, 15, 16 such as neighborhood parks, community gardens, senior centers, and food pantries7, 8. Another Minneapolis-based study suggests clusters of CLT homes can increase nearby property values17. CLT homeownership by households that might otherwise be renting can free up rental housing for other families, which may contribute to lower area rents1.

Many families purchase market-rate homes after participating in a CLT18, often leveraging wealth and assets accumulated through CLT homeownership11, 12. One Durham, NC-based study indicates that CLTs have successfully helped minority individuals and families purchase homes15. Experts suggest CLTs can help reduce the racial wealth divide by increasing homeownership and building wealth and assets for participating individuals and families. The racial wealth divide is maintained in part by systematically denying fair housing and mortgage opportunities to individuals and families of color, and significantly undervaluing property assets in marginalized neighborhoods. CLTs change the structure of land and property ownership to build wealth and assets for participating homeowners, while also supporting sustainable community development, protecting against gentrification, protecting community power and self-determination, and supporting a community-led, more equitable future19.

CLT programs can operate sustainably with very low delinquency and foreclosure rates18, notably lower than conventional market-rate homeowners11. Trusts often intervene to prevent foreclosures of homes under their ownership via grants or loans, monthly lease fee forgiveness, financial counseling, or home resale assistance7, 11.

Experts suggest that CLTs work with other local housing programs and policies such as housing trust funds, tax increment financing districts, inclusionary zoning policies, and land banks to consolidate funding, add discounted or donated land or houses to the CLT, and keep CLT homes permanently affordable2. CLTs can also partner with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to receive loans and grants that support CLT growth, investments, and sustainable operations20.

Equity Analysis

Potential to decrease disparities: Supported by some evidence

There is some evidence that community land trusts (CLTs) have the potential to decrease disparities in access to affordable housing for households with low and moderate incomes by restricting sales to families who meet income requirements8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 35. CLTs may also preserve affordable housing options for future homebuyers with low incomes when the current homeowners sell8, 12, and retain affordable, multi-unit housing options for renters14. CLTs assist in preventing foreclosure, eviction, or other threats to families’ tenure, and support quality home maintenance23, 35. In a hot real estate market, CLTs can prevent displacement of existing households with low incomes, and in cold markets, CLTS can support the rehabilitation of vacant land and homes, along with the creation of new, affordable housing23. CLTs can retain affordable housing in perpetuity, often beyond the duration of inclusionary zoning ordinances7.

One Durham, NC-based study indicates that CLTs have successfully helped minority individuals and families purchase homes15. CLTs change the structure of land and property ownership to build wealth and assets for participating homeowners, while also supporting sustainable community development, protecting against gentrification, protecting community power and self-determination, and supporting a community-led, more equitable future19, particularly when CLTs are created by the residents of communities of color36.

Historical Context

Community land trusts (CLTs) in the US originated in rural Georgia in 1969 with the creation of New Communities, Inc., a 6,000-acre tract of farmland and forests which was also the largest single tract of Black-owned farmland in the country23, 35, 36, 37. Among the founders were activists inspired by settlements on community-owned land in England, India, Israel, Tanzania, and Mexico23. New Communities faced challenges including violence from white landowners, in response to which the governor blocked federal funding, and the denial of an emergency USDA loan in the 1980s to address the effects of severe drought35, 37. The land went into foreclosure in 1985 and was purchased by a white farmer35, 37, 38.

Additional CLTs were created in the 1970s and 1980s, to build power within communities excluded from economic opportunities, though they faced similar challenges to New Communities36, 37. Many CLTs were designed to preserve or increase affordable housing for families with lower incomes22, 36. The Woodland Community Land Trust in Tennessee benefited families living on land owned by absentee coal corporations36, 37. The Community Land Cooperative of Cincinnati, founded in 1981, was the first urban CLT and aimed to stop displacement of Black residents with low incomes, with residents participating in the governance of the CLT36; it was also the first to mandate all future CLT home sales be to households with low incomes36. CLT founders included faith leaders and church associations, and some urban CLTs were formed in partnership with municipal governments or support from private foundations or public agencies22, 23; one example is Boston’s Dudley Neighbors Inc., established in 1989 to rejuvenate a multi-racial, residential neighborhood36. Urban CLTs also expanded to promote non-residential land uses, such as community centers and gardens23.

CLTs were defined in the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992, enshrining them in federal law and making them eligible for federal funding36, 37. In 1997, hundreds of Black farmers sued the USDA for discrimination for denying loans and grants35, 37. Known as Pigford v. Glickman, the farmers were awarded $1 billion dollars—the largest civil rights settlement in history35, 37. New Communities received $12 million from the lawsuit which it used to purchase 1,600 acres of land that previously belonged to a slave owner; it is now being farmed by the descendants of slaves, with training and support provided by New Communities35. CLTs continue to be widely used, often to counteract the effects of decades of redlining and environmental racism in communities of color. Baltimore, MD, which has a significant history of redlining, now has six CLTs that are working together to combat disinvestment and segregation while building community power and working towards a shared vision35.

Equity Considerations

  • Has your local government considered CLTs among solutions to create permanently affordable housing for households with low or moderate incomes? What might encourage your local government to donate publicly owned land to a CLT?
  • If you have a local CLT, what partnerships are possible to support additional affordable housing? For example, with private developers, local land banks, or housing trust funds?
  • If you have a local CLT, are residents involved in governance? Are they successfully building wealth from their CLT participation, including later home sales?
  • What package of solutions could you implement locally, ideally with state or federal support, to ensure neighborhoods with a history of disinvestment have quality, affordable housing?

Implementation Examples

As of 2021, there are more than 260 community land trusts (CLTs) in the US21, 22. Burlington, VT’s Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) is one of the largest, with more than 3,000 housing units, including rentals, supportive housing for those with special needs, and short-term housing for those experiencing homelessness; as well as non-residential spaces, including a park and multi-generational center, all held in perpetuity23. CHT also provides homebuyer education, financial counseling, and affordable energy efficiency and rehab loans, and has developed commercial sites for various local non-profit organizations24.

CLTs may be managed by counties, such as Essex County, NJ25; by cities, such as Minneapolis, MN26, 27; and by non-profit organizations, such as the New Communities Inc. in Albany, GA; First Homes Rochester Area Foundation in Minnesota; Dudley Neighbors, Inc. in Boston, MA; City Roots Community Land Trust in Rochester, NY; the Long Island Housing Partnership, operating in New York’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties; and the statewide Florida Community Land Trust Institute28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34.

One report examines the role CLTs can play in racial equity initiatives, increasing community resilience, preserving affordable housing, and developing sustainably, along with outlining lessons learned from case studies from cities across the US and Europe21.

The City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT) in Minneapolis, MN, recognizes the importance of respecting all voices in their community and acknowledges that the city of Minneapolis and all the homes in the CLCLT are located on Dakota and Anishinaabe land. CLCLT encourages CLT homeowners to immerse themselves in the CLCLT community by voting on trust business, attending member events such as family picnics and outings, becoming a CLCLT board member, and participating in homeowner educational workshops1, 27.

CLTs are also in use in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, and Kenya22.

Implementation Resources

CLT Center - Center for Community Land Trust Innovation (CLT Center). Supporting the global CLT movement. Video library.

SFCLT - San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT). Links & resources.

Community Wealth-CLT - Community-Wealth. Community land trusts (CLT).

Sungu-Eryilmaz 2007 - Sungu-Eryilmaz Y, Greenstein R. A national study of community land trusts. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. 2007: Working Paper WP07YS1.

GSN-CLT Hub - Grounded Solutions Network. Startup Community Land Trust Hub.

SCNE-CLT - Schumacher Center for a New Economics (SCNE). Community Land Trust (CLT): Background, history, and resources including a directory of CLTs across the US.

LISC-Affordable housing - Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Helping neighbors build communities: Affordable housing.

LHS - Local Housing Solutions (LHS). To enhance local affordability and foster inclusive communities. New York University, Furman Center and Abt Associates, Inc.

LHS-COVID-19 response - Local Housing Solutions (LHS). Housing issues: COVID-19. New York University, Furman Center and Abt Associates, Inc.

Brookings-Kimbrough 2021 - Kimbrough JE Jr. How a New Orleans community land trust is providing permanently affordable housing and supporting Black entrepreneurs. The Avenue: Rethinking metropolitan America. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2021.

Footnotes

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 Hackett 2019* - Hackett KA, Saegert S, Dozier D, Marinova M. Community land trusts: Releasing possible selves through stable affordable housing. Housing Studies. 2019;34(1):24-48.

2 Thaden 2020 - Thaden E, Pickett T. Community land trusts: Combining scale and community control to advance mixed-income neighborhoods. National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University; 2020.

3 Skobba 2014* - Skobba K, Carswell AT. Community land trust homeowners: Past and present housing experiences. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. 2014;43(1):4-17.

4 Martin 2020* - Martin DG, Esfahani AH, Williams OR, et al. Meanings of limited equity homeownership in community land trusts. Housing Studies. 2020;35(3):395-414.

5 GSN-CLT - Grounded Solutions Network. Community Land Trust.

6 Engelsman 2018* - Engelsman U, Rowe M, Southern A. Community land trusts, affordable housing and community organising in low-income neighbourhoods. International Journal of Housing Policy. 2018;18(1):103-123.

7 Miller 2013a - Miller SR. Community land trusts: Why now is the time to integrate this housing activists' tool into local government affordable housing policies. Zoning & Planning Law Report. 2013;36(9):1-24.

8 Lowe 2015* - Lowe JS, Thaden E. Deepening stewardship: Resident engagement in community land trusts. Urban Geography. 2015.

9 Thaden 2010 - Thaden E, Rosenberg G. Outperforming the market: Delinquency and foreclosure rates in Community Land Trusts. Land Lines. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. 2010.

10 Choi 2018* - Choi M, Van Zandt S, Matarrita-Cascante D. Can community land trusts slow gentrification? Journal of Urban Affairs. 2018;40(3):394-411.

11 Thaden 2011 - Thaden E. Stable home ownership in a turbulent economy: Delinquencies and foreclosures remain low in Community Land Trusts. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. 2011: Working Paper.

12 Temkin 2011 - Temkin K, Tehodos B, Price D. A promising way forward for homeownership: Assessing the benefits of shared equity programs. Community Investments 2011;23(1):12-18,32.

13 Damewood 2011 - Damewood R, Young-Laing B. Strategies to prevent displacement of residents and businesses in Pittsburgh's Hill District. September 2011.

14 Agnotti 2007 - Angotti T. Community land trusts and low-income multifamily rental housing: The case of Cooper Square, New York City. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. 2007: Working Paper.

15 Gray 2012* - Gray KA, Miller-Cribbs JE. The Durham community land trustees. Journal of Community Practice. 2012;20(4):402-413.

16 Paterson 2009* - Paterson E, Dunn M. Perspectives on utilising community land trusts as a vehicle for affordable housing provision. Local Environment. 2009;14(8):749–64.

17 Nelson 2020* - Nelson K, DeFilippis J, Kruger R, et al. The commodity effects of decommodification: Community land trusts and neighborhood property values. Housing Policy Debate. 2020;30(5):823-842.

18 Urban-Temkin 2010 - Temkin K, Theodos B, Price D. Shared equity homeownership evaluation: Case study of northern communities land trust. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2010.

19 Brookings-Hadden Loh 2021 - Hadden Loh T, Love H. The emerging solidarity economy: A primer on community ownership of real estate. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2021.

20 LISC-Greenberg 2019 - Greenberg DM. Community land trusts & community development: Partners against displacement. New York: Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC); 2019.

21 Grannis 2021 - Grannis J. Community land = community resilience: How community land trusts can support urban affordable housing and climate initiatives. Washington, DC: Georgetown Climate Center, Georgetown Law; 2021.

22 Home Trust of Skagit - Home Trust of Skagit. History of community land trusts and local history. Mount Vernon, Washington.

23 Sanders Institute-CLTs - The Sanders Institute. Community land trusts, then and now. Burlington, VT. 2021.

24 CHT-VT - Champlain Housing Trust (CHT). Northwestern Vermont-based community land trust (CLT).

25 Essex-CLT - Essex Community Land Trust (CLT): A countywide CLT in Essex, NJ.

26 Semuels 2015 - Semuels A. Affordable housing, always: Gentrification is pushing long-term residents out of urban neighborhoods. Can collective land ownership keep prices down permanently? 2015.

27 CLCLT - City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT). Minneapolis, Minnesota.

28 New Communities - New Communities, Inc. Navigating the winds of change. Albany, GA.

29 First homes-CLT - First Homes: Rochester Area Foundation. Community Land Trust (CLT).

30 DNI - Dudley Neighbors Incorporated: The Community Land Trust (DNI). Roxbury and North Dorchester neighborhoods, Boston, MA.

31 City Roots CLT - City Roots Community Land Trust. Permanently affordable, community controlled. Rochester, NY.

32 Meehan 2014* - Meehan J. Reinventing real estate: The community land trust as a social invention in affordable housing. Journal of Applied Social Science. 2014;8(2):113-133.

33 LIHP-CLT - Long Island Housing Partnership (LIHP). Community Land Trust Workforce Housing Program. Nassau and Suffolk Counties, New York.

34 Florida CLT Institute - Florida Community Land Trust Institute (Florida CLT Institute). Florida Housing Coalition.

35 LISC-Duranti-Martinez 2021 - Duranti-Martinez J. “Real power is in the land”: Community land trusts—past, present and future. New York: Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC); 2021.

36 Davis 2014a - Davis JE. Origins and evolution of the community land trust in the United States. Updated for The Community Land Trust Reader, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. 2014.

37 Lim 2020* - Lim A. We shall not be moved: Collective ownership gives power back to poor farmers. Harper’s Magazine. 2020.

38 Voluntown Peace Trust-History - Voluntown Peace Trust. The first community land trust in the United States. Voluntown, CT. 2020.

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