The Community Land Trust (CLT) model of affordable housing was created over thirty years ago by the Institute for Community Economics in response to the rising costs of housing, limited space for new construction, growing number of abandoned buildings and an aging housing stock in eastern U.S. cities. The CLT model was born out of a search for a creative and innovative way to address the housing problem at the time. Since that time, unfortunately, the same housing problems that plagued the eastern cities have spread across the country. In response, the CLT movement has spread as well, and there are now approximately 200 communities across the U.S. that currently operate or are forming CLTs.
The purposes of a Community Land Trust are to provide access to land and housing to people who are otherwise denied access; to increase long-term community control of neighborhood resources; to empower residents through involvement and participation in the organization; and to preserve the affordability of housing permanently. Though the program specifics vary among different CLTs, the basic model is the same. CLTs offer a balanced approach to ownership: the nonprofit trust owns the land and leases it for a nominal fee to individuals who own the buildings on the land. As the home is truly their own, it provides the homeowners with the same permanence and security as a conventional buyer, and they can use the land in the same way as any other homeowner.
In addition, CLTs are membership-based nonprofit organizations that offer a balanced approach to governance: members include residents of CLT housing, small businesses, neighborhood associations, corporations, and supportive individuals and families. The Board of Directors includes members from the above groups as well, with a third of the Board required to be representatives from CLT residents and low income areas. This ensures that CLT homeowners have an active voice in the work of the Land Trust, and thus in their neighborhoods and cities. These distinguishing features are designed to allow the CLT to strike a balance between the interest of the community and the needs of individual residents.
Community Land Trusts help low and moderate income families benefit from the equity built through homeownership, and at the same time preserve the affordability of these homes so that future residents will have the same affordable homeownership opportunities. How do we do this? First, by owning the land, CLTs are able to greatly reduce the initial housing cost to the potential buyer. Second, the land lease contains a resale provision which ensures that if the house is sold, it goes to another low or moderate income person. This is one of the reasons why it is called a community land trust: you agree to pass on the same benefits that you received upon getting into your house to the next homeowner. The buyer agrees to limit the amount of profit they make on the house sale in order to insure that the property remains affordable for the next person. The beauty of this is that CLTs do not need additional subsidies each time the house resells; the permanent affordability is built into the lease for perpetuity.
Currently there are over five thousand community land trust homes across the country. CLTs nationwide also provide housing through affordable rental properties and housing co-ops, while developing community facilities, preserving open space and working with other community groups to promote economic opportunities. Additionally, because all land trusts are locally operated, they provide greater local control over land and housing ownership and build leadership among community residents. As the number of CLTs nationwide has more than doubled in the last ten years, this model is creatively and cooperatively fulfilling a need for permanently affordable housing in this country.
[Thanks to the Northern Communities Land Trust of Duluth, Minnesota for this article. You can visit their website at www.landtrustduluth.org]