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Community Land Trusts

Inner-city communities often face a disabling paradox. Economically depressed communities are plagued with abandoned land and decaying buildings that discourage investment in community improvement. On the other hand, communities on the rise often experience soaring land and housing prices, so long-time residents and businesses find themselves priced out of their own neighborhoods. Either way, low- and moderate-income people often lose.

A community land trust (CLT) is a way to address both challenges. CLTs are non-profit, regionally based organizations that take land out of the speculative market and hold it for farmland or conservation, or as sites for housing or businesses. The long-term lease provides lessees with private ownership of buildings and improvements to the land. The resale formula excludes the land value from any future sale, keeping housing and farming permanently affordable.

In his E. F. Schumacher Lecture, “Wisdom That Builds Community,” Greg Watson describes how the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (www.dsni.org) in the Roxbury section of Boston used community land trusts to gather abandoned properties and redevelop them for neighborhood housing and business.

The land lease is a flexible tool that can specify height and design characteristics of buildings, owner occupancy of homes, and local ownership of businesses—all factors that help retain the character and scale of the neighborhood. The CLT need not itself act as builder of infrastructure on the land, but can facilitate appropriate development and lower up-front costs by providing a community-approved development plan as part of a lease.

Community land trusts are also used to support farm homesteads, the re-gathering of tribal lands, and the development of scattered sites for affordable housing.

  Susan Witt is Executive Director of the E. F. Schumacher Society. Merrian Fuller is coordinator of the E. F. Schumacher Society's upcoming seminar program “Building Sustainable Local Communities.” Background materials and legal documents for starting a community land trust, as well as Schumacher lectures, are at www.smallisbeautiful.org.

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