Community Land Trusts as a Mechanism for Community Control

In recent years, community land trusts (CLTs) have emerged as a powerful mechanism for communities to gain control over their land and housing. In this chapter, we will explore the concept of community land trusts, their purpose, and how they function as a means of community control. By understanding the principles and benefits of CLTs, we can appreciate their potential in fostering affordable housing, preserve community assets, and promoting long-term community stability.

Section 1: What are Community Land Trusts?

A community land trust is a nonprofit organization that acquires and holds land for the benefit of a specific community. The primary goal of a CLT is to ensure long-term affordability and community control over land and housing. CLTs typically separate the ownership of land from the ownership of buildings or housing units, allowing the community to collectively manage and govern the land while providing affordable housing options to residents.

Section 2: The Purpose of Community Land Trusts

  1. Affordable Housing: One of the key purposes of CLTs is to address the issue of affordable housing. By acquiring and holding land, CLTs can remove it from the speculative market, ensuring that it remains affordable for future generations. CLTs often develop or rehabilitate housing units on the land they control and establish mechanisms to keep them affordable in perpetuity, even as market prices fluctuate.

  2. Community Control: CLTs empower communities by giving them direct control over the land and housing within their neighborhoods. The governance structure of CLTs typically involves community residents and stakeholders, allowing them to participate in decision-making processes and shape the future of their community. This level of community control fosters a sense of ownership, pride, and stability among residents.

  3. Asset Preservation: CLTs play a vital role in preserving community assets. By holding land in trust, CLTs prevent the displacement of residents and maintain affordable housing options in the face of gentrification or rapid urban development. This preservation of community assets helps to retain the character, diversity, and social fabric of the neighborhood.

Section 3: How Community Land Trusts Work

  1. Land Acquisition: CLTs acquire land through various means, including purchasing it on the open market, receiving donations, or partnering with government agencies. The land is then held in trust by the CLT on behalf of the community.

  2. Housing Development: CLTs often develop or rehabilitate housing units on the land they control. These units are designed to be affordable and may include a mix of rental units and homeownership opportunities. CLTs work to ensure that the housing remains permanently affordable by setting income restrictions or resale formulas that limit the price at which units can be sold.

  3. Resident Stewardship: CLTs involve residents in the management and governance of the land and housing. Residents may serve on the CLT's board of directors or participate in decision-making processes through community meetings and forums. This resident stewardship model ensures that the community's needs and priorities are reflected in the management of the land and housing.

Section 4: Benefits of Community Land Trusts

  1. Long-Term Affordability: CLTs provide a sustainable solution to the issue of affordable housing by ensuring that it remains affordable for future generations. The perpetual affordability model implemented by CLTs helps to combat the effects of rising housing costs and gentrification.

  2. Community Stability: CLTs contribute to community stability by preventing displacement and maintaining a diverse mix of residents. By preserving affordable housing options, CLTs enable long-term residents to remain in their communities, fostering social cohesion and continuity.

  3. Resident Empowerment: CLTs empower residents by giving them a voice in the decision-making processes that shape their communities. The participatory nature of CLTs fosters a sense of community ownership, pride, and engagement.

  4. Preservation of Community Assets: By preserving land and housing as community assets, CLTs protect the unique character and identity of neighborhoods. This helps to maintain the cultural heritage, social networks, and local economies within the community.


Community land trusts serve as a mechanism for community control, providing long-term affordability, resident empowerment, and the preservation of community assets. By acquiring and holding land, CLTs ensure that it remains accessible and affordable for the community, while giving residents a voice in decision-making processes. As a result, CLTs contribute to affordable housing, community stability, and the preservation of neighborhood character. Understanding the principles and benefits of CLTs can inspire communities to explore this innovative model for achieving community control over land and housing.

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