What is a community land trust (CLT)?
Community land trusts are not-for-profit organizations that own and steward land on behalf of local communities.
A fundamental component of the CLT is the community’s ability to own and control local resources – including land, buildings and other assets – and decisions regarding their use and development.
While community land trusts are frequently thought of in relation to housing – and specifically single-family dwellings – increasingly the model is being adopted in multi-family, commercial, manufacturing and public space contexts.
How do CLTs work?
CLTs acquire land and lease it to community residents or business owners at permanently affordable rates. Typically, CLTs are run by membership boards comprised of leaseholders, community members and representatives of partner not-for-profit organizations that provide funding or technical expertise.
What do CLTs do?
- Eliminate land speculation
- Provide permanently affordable housing and small business rents
- Protect resident/tenant and small business rights
- Keep out predatory landlords and real estate investors
- Give members ongoing control over community land use and development decisions
- Create jobs for community residents
CLTs in NYC
Cooper Square Community Land Trust was created in 1991, however it’s foundations date to 1959 when Robert Moses proposed leveling an 11-block area of New York City’s Lower East Side to make room for new union-sponsored co-operative housing and the Cooper Square Committee (CSC) – a coalition of local residents and businesses – organized to oppose the project. In 1961, the CSC completed its own plan for the area. That plan, which included the preservation of existing housing and the development of new affordable housing, was accepted by the City. Its first project, using federal Section 8 funds, was completed in 1984. In 1991, at the same time the Cooper Square CLT was established, the CSC created the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association to manage 303 multi-family units and 23 commercial spaces in 19 buildings.
Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards (Bronx, NY) was founded by South Bronx Unite, a coalition of environmental justice, land and anti-displacement activists. It is a member of the New York City Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI)
In 2017, a proposal submitted by the MH-PM Community Land Stewards, in partnership with South Bronx Unite and the NYCCLI, was named one of two winners of the Design Trust for Public Space Call for Project Ideas competition, Public for All: Rethinking Shared Space in NYC.
That proposal, “Community Land Trust as a Model for Public Space,” calls for the use of asset mapping and community-driven neighborhood planning to explore the potential for the community land trust model of community ownership to be applied to public space. Officially called “Power in Place: Building Community Wealth and Well-Being in Mott Haven-Port Morris, one of its goals is to identify underutilized spaces in those neighborhoods, like empty lots or abandoned or vacated properties that can be used for community needs like recreation, education and health.
While Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards has yet to gain control over such a space, it has identified the vacant, 22,750-square-foot New York City-owned former Lincoln Detox Center, which it proposes to convert in into a permanently affordable, community-owned space for local nonprofits and cultural organizations, called the H.E.ARTS Community Center (health, education, and the arts).
Chhaya CLT, Jackson Heights, Queens. Chhaya is a community development corporation that works to build the power, housing stability, and economic well-being of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities in New York City. Based in Jackson Heights and Richmond Hill, Chhaya has two decades of experience fighting displacement in immigrant neighborhoods. A core anchor of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community is the small business corridors in our neighborhoods. However, gentrification and rising rents threaten to push out our small businesses, and thus the whole community: small business displacement is cultural displacement.
As a response Chhaya has begun to lay the groundwork of a commercial CLT that can serve as an anchor of affordable commercial space in a rapidly changing neighborhood. Our vision is to work with small businesses, community partners, and other stakeholders to incorporate a land trust that will lease affordable commercial spaces to immigrant small business owners and preserve the culture of Jackson Heights. The CLT will also create much needed community space. If you are interested in getting involved, please reach out to Will Spisak.
Other actually existing CLTs
Dudley Neighbors, Inc (Boston, MA), launched in 1988; today controls 30 acres of land, including more than 400 total homes, 226 new affordable homes, a 10,000-square-foot community greenhouse built in 2004, a playground, community gardens and a 1.5-acre urban farm
Fannie Lou Hamer CLT (Jackson, MS), a component of a broader Sustainable Communities Initiative founded by the workers’ cooperative Cooperation Jackson, includes more than 40 parcels of once abandoned or vacant properties purchased from the City of Jackson, the State of Mississippi and private owners
Oakland Community Land Trust (Oakland, CA) operates a resident-managed multifamily Resident Operated Nonprofit (RON) non-equity co-op and a mixed-use community center occupied by local community service providers
Rondo CLT (St. Paul, MN) launched a $13.2 million project to develop two mixed-use commercial/residential buildings that provide long-term affordable commercial space as well as 34 units of affordable senior housing
Sawmill CLT (Albuquerque, NM) formed in 1996 on 27 acres of heavily polluted land once occupied by a particleboard factory. Since, the CLT has grown to 34 acres with 93 affordable ownership homes and three affordable apartment complexes community gardens, playgrounds and a public plaza