[ The United States is in the middle of a massive housing crisis.
The community land trust (CLT) model is highly flexible, and has huge
potential for addressing the affordable housing crisis in America
today.can help address it.] [https://portside.org/] 



 Oksana Mironova 
 July 6, 2019

	* [https://portside.org/node/20802/printable/print]

 _ The United States is in the middle of a massive housing crisis. The
community land trust (CLT) model is highly flexible, and has huge
potential for addressing the affordable housing crisis in America
today.can help address it. _ 

 Tenants march in a protest in the Lower East Side in New York,
credit: Marlis Momber // Jacobin 


Over the past fifty years, cycles of disinvestment and aggressive
reinvestment in urban real estate markets, stagnating wages, and
neoliberal shifts in federal housing policy have created a complex
housing system that is fueled by debt and fails to serve a large swath
of the population. Housing advocates continually struggle with
logistical questions about the longevity and depth of affordability in
affordable housing and structural questions about the roles of the
market and the state in the provision of housing.

It is difficult to pin down the functional definition of what a house
is in America: shelter, sanctuary, a societal building block, a wealth
building mechanism, and/or a commodity. What is clear, from high rent
burdens, widespread evictions, and growing homelessness, is that
existing tools are not working.

Over the past few years, the community land trust (CLT) model has been
increasingly promoted as a solution by affordable housing advocates of
many kinds, from anti-gentrification and tenants advocates to
traditional community development organizations to large philanthropic
institutions like the Ford Foundation and the Federal Reserve. The CLT
model is highly flexible, and has huge potential for addressing the
affordable housing crisis in America today.

What Is a CLT?

At its core, a CLT is an entity organized to maintain the ownership of
land for a specific, community-oriented purpose, forever. It is
designed to be a nontraditional form of property ownership, where the
ownership of land is separated from the ownership of property.

The relationship between the entity that owns the land and the entity
that builds and operates the buildings that are on the land are
defined by what’s called a “ground lease.” In the United States,
ground leases are most commonly used in the development of commercial
real estate. They give the developer of a building strong control over
what happens to a property for a long period of time (for as long as
ninety-nine years), while allowing the land owner to retain the rights
to the land itself. In real estate terms, a ground lease allows a
developer to substantially lower their front-end costs by avoiding
paying for land.

In Marxist terms, a ground lease
[https://www.versobooks.com/books/2111-in-defense-of-housing] creates
a legally acceptable framework for separating the use value (in this
case, the use of a building to actually house someone) of a property
from its commodity value (the building’s generation of profits for a
seller or landlord), creating a pathway for its decommodification. A
CLT takes the ground lease model and injects a social mission: the
entity that owns the land holds it in trust for a designated use —
like the provision of below-market rate housing or the protection of
green space — in perpetuity.

Governance and Participation

To formalize and define “community,” CLTs often incorporate a
unique governance structure, where the entity that owns the land is
overseen by a board that includes some combination of people who
live/use the buildings on CLT land: the surrounding “community”
and representative “experts” and/or members of the public.

Ideally, a CLT ownership structure both puts into practice ideas about
collective ownership of urban land and diffuses power between people
who directly benefit from the CLT and the broader community indirectly
impacted by the CLT. Or, as Howard Brandstein, who helped incorporate
a CLT on New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1980s, put it,
“the land trust was a means for neighborhood residents to withstand
the challenge of market forces entering the Lower East Side by
bridging the separation between ownership as an expression of
self-interest, on the one hand, and community empowerment on the

In practice, the levels of resident-driven control among CLTs, and the
extent to which residents are ideologically committed to
decommodifying housing, vary greatly. Some CLTs, especially those
rising out of neighborhood-based struggles, explicitly incorporate
horizontal governance, consensus-based decision making. Others are
centrally driven and only nominally incorporate residents into the
decision making process.

Pitfalls of Model Flexibility Permanent Stewardship

Part of the CLT model’s strength is its flexibility — there is not
a hard definition of what a CLT should look like exactly, beyond a
ground lease driven relationship between an entity that holds land in
trust for a common good and the people who use the land.

The sale of buildings on CLT land is governed by a resale formula
outlined in the renewable, usually ninety-nine-year, ground lease,
which gives the CLT the first right of purchase, allowing it to
control the value of the properties themselves and to enforce
affordability restrictions and income targeting. Organizers of the CLT
can tailor the ownership structure within the buildings,
income-targeting, service provision, and rent restrictions to local

Buildings on CLT-owned land may include owner-occupied single-family
homes, rental buildings, self-managed cooperatives (limited equity and
otherwise) or mutual housing associations, commercial, manufacturing,
and office spaces, farms, and/or green spaces. This gives the
organizers of a CLTs wide latitude to solve local problems, whether
they are racist segregation, environmental preservation, or
displacement as a result of gentrification.

This flexibility, mixed with the responsibility of permanent
stewardship, creates the possibility for both co-optation and mission
slippage, especially as CLTs engage in real estate development to
achieve community-driven goals. Dana Hawkins-Simons and Miriam
Axel-Lute point
[https://shelterforce.org/2015/10/15/organizing_and_the_community_land_trust_model/] to
a common criticism of all community developers: “ . . . 
reliance on accessing public affordable housing funds has turned
community developers away from their civil rights roots and muted
their voices on controversial issues in their neighborhoods and

And because CLTs (even those that are resident-controlled), exist
outside the public sphere, they do not operate under a clearly stated
public mandate. Given the long timeline (forever!) of CLT stewardship
responsibilities, the danger of eventual loss of
community-orientation, especially as the CLT undertakes development,
is there.

CLT Landscape Today

Despite a strong association with affordable urban housing, community
land trusts in the United States begun as a rural experiment in
securing land rights for African-American farmers. New Communities,
Inc. (NCI) was organized by veterans of the Albany Movement, the first
mass organizing effort in the 1960s to fully desegregate a Southern

After witnessing evictions and job losses as repercussion for
anti-segregation organizing, movement organizers like Charles Sherrod
of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) — who would
later become president of New Communities — came to believe
[http://www.cltroots.org/the-guide/early-hybrids-breeding-and-seeding-the-clt-model/georgia-seedbed] that
“the only way African Americans in the Deep South would ever have
the independence and security to stand up for their rights — and not
be punished for doing so — was to own the land themselves.”
Incorporated in the late 1960s, New Communities purchased
five-thousand acres, to be held in trust, and developed a ground lease
system, which
[https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/land-challenge-and-opportunity/] allowed
for both individual homesteads organized in two residential
communities and cooperative farms.

Like many urban CLTs that came later, NCI was a culmination of long
term organizing against a spatially-enforced system of
disenfranchisement. Since the denial of property rights has been one
of the key methods
[https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/] for
reinforcing white supremacy in the United States, civil rights
organizers developed a model that centered around claiming power
through land that also went beyond the traditionally American system
of individual ownership.

CLTs in Disinvested Markets

The rural CLT model made its way to urban areas in the United States
in the 1980s, proving to be a good fit for a disinvested post-fiscal
crisis landscape. Many formally redlined neighborhoods in American
cities were awash with public, tax foreclosed properties and sites of
intensive local organizing.

In some cases, like the CLTs that emerged on the Lower East Side,
organizers were noticing early signs of gentrification and land
speculation, which resulted in the loss of affordable housing — a
problem that the CLT structure could help address. In others, like the
Sawmill CLT in Albuquerque, the focus was on environmental justice,
with a CLT as a culmination of a broader effort among residents to
address a public health issues in their neighborhood.


Frances Goldin speaks at a protest on 2nd Avenue in the Lower East
Side in New York, circa 1960s. She was a founding member of the Cooper
Square Committee.
These CLTs were often organized alongside other neighborhood
stabilizing efforts, from community development corporations to
homesteading and squatting efforts. In an extensive study of CLTs and
Mutual Housing Associations, John Krinsky and Sarah Hovde wrote
[https://books.google.com/books/about/Balancing_Acts.html?id=e9cMPQAACAAJ] that
CLTs were perceived to be able to resolve problems and conflicts
inherent in the co-op model on the one hand, and the nonprofit rental
model on the other.” Unlike other affordable housing efforts during
this era, CLT organizers often took a longer, less market-oriented

For example, affordable rental housing developed with low income
housing tax credits by community development corporations before 1980s
had fifteen-year affordability agreements, while CLTs created a
framework for perpetual affordability. But most disinvested cities
pursued strategies that returned public land to the private market as
quickly as possible, making CLTs minor players in the urban
redevelopment process.

A market-based logic still dominates in disinvested communities today.
Cities devastated by a racially and economically motivated policy and
private lending practices — from redlining to subprime mortgages
[https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/] —
search for ways to attract investment, often by giving away land.
Today, unlike the 1980s, there has been a rising reliance on land
banks in cities like Detroit, as opposed to tax foreclosure auctions
which are rigged heavily toward developers, to more thoughtfully
channel the redistribution of public land. But most continue to focus
on transferring land to professional developers or promoting
homeownership with time-limited affordability requirements. Similarly,
many CLTs today orient their language and marketing around affordable
homeownership and foreclosure prevention, rather than broad land

At the same time, local interest in CLTs as a tool to address broader
land-based social justice issues remains. For example, the Detroit
People’s Platform — a broad coalition of social justice
organizations, activists, and residents that emerged after the
city’s bankruptcy — sees CLTs as
[http://detroitpeoplesplatform.org/resources/community-land-trusts/] “a
potential alternative to profit-driven development and a means to
resist the continued movement of public-owned commons into the private
sector.” And organizers and residents are increasingly seeing CLTs
as a way to engage in participatory neighborhood planning in
disinvested neighborhoods: the model is suited for this role because
CLTs are geographically targeted and could operate on a multi-block

This was the model employed by Dudley Neighbors, Incorporated
[https://www.dudleyneighbors.org/background.html](DNI) in Boston,
which led to a CLT with “225 new affordable homes, a 10,000 square
foot community greenhouse, urban farm, a playground, gardens, and
other amenities of a thriving urban village.” T.R.U.S.T. South LA is
undertaking a similar larger scale planning effort in Los Angeles.

The model creates a framework for residents to understand and
challenge neighborhood market forces that often stay hidden. For
example, the New Columbia Community Land Trust in Washington, DC,
helped residents faced with displacement ask why the value of public
amenities, like a subway, should accrue to private real estate
owners at the expense
[https://shelterforce.org/1997/03/01/watchful-stewards/] of low- and
moderate-income tenants.”

CLTs in Expensive Markets

Most recently, CLTs have begun to gain traction as an affordability
preservation tool in expensive land markets. Older land trusts like
Cooper Square CLT on the Lower East Side and DNI have seen the
neighborhoods around them transform as aggressive reinvestment has
driven up rents and displaced long term tenants. In Seattle, San
Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and other cities, both grassroots
organizations and established CDCs have looked to CLTs as an
anti-gentrification tool.

Disinvestment and aggressive reinvestment are part of the same problem
faced by urban neighborhoods, especially in neighborhoods of color.
While existing CLTs do soften the impact of this cycle, groups
starting new CLTs in gentrifying neighborhoods often find it difficult
to overcome the main problem they are trying to address: skyrocketing
land costs as a result of speculation. In a 2015 _Next City_article,
Jake Blumgart wrote:

In Seattle, it took Homestead Community Land Trust ten years to bring
its first house into its portfolio and twenty-two years after its
founding, the trust has not been able to obtain land on the cheap from
the city. Though the trust was founded in 1992 to preserve affordable
housing in the Central District, once Seattle’s premiere
African-American neighborhood, today only six of their 191 homes are
located in the neighborhood because of the high cost of land there.

In high cost land markets, CLTs — like the Chinatown Community Land
[http://realestate.boston.com/news/2015/01/30/chinatown-residents-rally-after-community-land-trust-efforts-thwarted-by-developer/] in
Boston — are generally unable to compete with private capital in the
open market. And even as aggressive investment displaces residents,
cities often continue to pursue market-oriented strategies for public

For example, in New York City — with the hyper financialization of
affordable housing development  has resulted in predatory equity
driven tenant displacement in neighborhoods where the city could not
give land fast enough in the 1980s — nonprofit affordable housing
developers overall have long complained
[https://citylimits.org/2017/04/04/community-developers-say-citys-housing-plan-leaves-them-behind/] of
being sidelined in favor of profit-oriented developers. While New York
City is not awash with tax foreclosed property, the city continues to
include public land in packages for income-targeted housing

Local CLT-oriented efforts, including an alternative plan for a
city-owned armory in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and a redevelopment of a
public library in Inwood, Manhattan face uphill battles — “the
thresholds for the experience and financial heft bidders must bring to
the table
are out of reach for sophisticated and well-established CDCs, much
less a new grassroots group formed to address a local neighborhood

Implementation and Scaling

Obstacles to land acquisition and municipal polices that rely on
market-based solutions have limited the impact of CLTs on American
cities. Even though there are approximately 280 CLTs
[https://nextcity.org/features/view/affordable-housings-forever-solution] in
the United States today, many have not secured land to steward. CLTs
face many of the same obstacles as smaller community-oriented
developers. Development is expensive, and hard to do without strong
municipal support.

The CLT with the largest influence on the housing market where it’s
located is The Champlain Housing Trust, controlling 7.6 percent of the
Burlington’s housing stock. When it launched in 1984, the land
trust received substantial support
[https://slate.com/business/2016/01/bernie-sanders-made-burlingtons-land-trust-possible-its-still-an-innovative-and-effective-model-of-affordable-housing-today.html] from
then-mayor Bernie Sanders, including a $200,000 seed grant, a pension
fund loan, and, importantly for its longevity, ongoing funding through
the Burlington Housing Trust Fund funded by a small property tax
increase. The land trust also received funding from a local bank
(likely, to meet its Community Reinvestment Act requirements) and HUD.

To gain municipal support, CLT organizers need to engage in policy
advocacy, in tandem with intersecting housing movements, including
both policies that are immediately beneficial for CLT development and
broadly beneficial for low-income people: housing trust funds that
provide ongoing rental assistance to low-income tenants, tax breaks
for permanent low-rent housing, rent regulation, anti-eviction
programs, and increased support for public housing. The New York City
Community Land Initiative in New York City, for example, was initiated
by multiple local organizations, including Picture the Homeless, a
homeless-led organization that advocates for better homelessness
resource spending.

More broadly, CLTs — along with other forms of housing that minimize
speculation, including rent control and public housing — should be
viewed as one of the means for creating a less exploitative housing
system in the United States. As argued by David Madden and Peter
Marcuse in _In Defense of Housing, _urban real estate are central
drivers of the market
Models that help to de-commodify housing can be transformative, if
applied together.

At the same time, Robert Swann, who helped launch New Communities,
Inc. and the Institute for Community Economics, cautioned against a
“housing only” focus among CLT organizers, positioning the model
as a broader means for reducing speculative profit through land
reform. CLTs should also seek partnerships within the growing
“solidarity economy” sector to achieve scale.

Evan Casper-Futterman wrote
[https://www.metropolitiques.eu/Overcoming-the-Scalar-Stalemate-in-Community-Development.html] about
two umbrella organizations the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance
(PACA) and the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City
(CEANYC), which “aim to unite worker cooperatives and housing
cooperatives and their sectoral networks with food cooperatives and
other consumer and financial cooperatives such as local cooperative
investment funds, community development credit unions and
community-based organizations working on issues of labor, immigrant,
racial, and economic (in)justice.”

Of the CLTs that have the strongest internal cohesion are those that
have developed mechanisms for continual resident participation and are
responsive to changes within the organization as it ages. CLTs that
are born out of local organizing are likely to experience a level of
internal tension, especially if the organization directly undertakes
new housing development. Harry Smith, director of Dudley Neighbors,
Inc. described
[https://shelterforce.org/2015/10/15/organizing_and_the_community_land_trust_model/] the
CLT’s foray into development as traumatic, because “it took so
much time. It distracted DSNI from its core functions. It’s
important to be explicit: If you do development work, it will take
away time from organizing.” Some CLTs do not undertake development
work directly for this reason.

Even if a CLT is not rapidly expanding, there is always a continuing
need for ongoing education, engagement, and organizing, especially as
the first generation of residents ages out. In their review of twenty
CLTs in the 1990s, Krinsky and Hovde found that the presence of
organizers on staff helped drive resident participation. Organizing
and engagement — not just of residents but of the community as whole
(however it is defined by the CLT), including prospective residents
— is necessary to avoid the CLT becoming a back door entry to
privatization, especially in instances where public land is involved.
Further, an enforceable and iron clad legal framework is equally
necessary, for the same reason.

Today, as during the Civil Rights era in the late 1960s or
neighborhood based organizing in the 1980s, CLTs continue to reappear
in movement contexts. The Movement for Black Lives calls for
[https://policy.m4bl.org/economic-justice/] a coordinated review of
“ . . .  tax credits, insurance systems and budgets concerning
various elements of development (e.g., housing, schools, community,
highways, etc.) and align around the goal of fair development with an
emphasis on community land trusts, cooperatives, and community
control.” Similarly, community land trusts are often a feature of
“radical municipalist
movements, most prominently in the United States as part of
Cooperation Jackson, an effort to organize and empower
[http://www.cooperationjackson.org/intro/] “the structurally under
and unemployed sectors of the working class, particularly from black
and Latino communities, to build worker organized and owned
cooperatives will be a catalyst for the democratization of our economy
and society overall.” CLTs are not a silver bullet. But they provide
a framework for organizing efforts to reimagine their neighborhoods
and cities as more than just places.

_[Oksana Mironova writes about cities, housing, and public space. Her
writings can be found on her website oksana.nyc [https://oksana.nyc/]
and on Twitter.]_

_The new issue of Jacobin is out now, ON THE HOUSING CRISIS AND
[https://jacobinmag.com/subscribe/?code=SOCIALISMWILLWIN] TODAY._

CATALYST [http://catalyst-journal.com/], A NEW JOURNAL PUBLISHED BY

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