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Community Land Trusts: An Introduction

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Community land trusts typically acquire and hold land, but sell off any residential or commercial buildings which are on the land. In this way, the cost of land in the housing equation is minimized or eliminated, thus making the housing more affordable. The land leases, in addition to being long-term (typically ninety-nine years) and renewable, are also assignable to the heirs of the leaseholder. Most, if not all, CLTs have in place “limited equity” policies and formulas that restrict the resale price of the housing in order to maintain its long-term affordability. These features of the community land trust model provide homeownership opportunities to people who might otherwise be left out of the market. Higher rates of homeownership help stabilize and strengthen communities. …

Establishment of community land trusts began to take off in the early 1980s. The number of active CLTs in the U.S. has more than tripled since 1987, as communities have come to see the versatility and value of CLTs. See Sidebar, Third-Sector Housing

Newspaper ad: Become a Homewoner!In most cases, community land trusts have been formed as a grass-roots response to specific local needs. As a result, there is considerable diversity in the roles that CLTs play. Many rural CLTs have been established to ensure access to land and housing for low-income people and to preserve family farms. Urban CLTs often deal with combating the negative effects of speculation and gentrification. Most community land trusts focus on increasing homeownership, which sometimes includes educating potential homebuyers on establishing credit, applying for a mortgage, and maintaining a home. A number of CLTs have also acted as developers of special needs housing or group homes, rental housing, and even commercial space for lower income entrepreneurs. …

What is the relationship between a community land trust and the local planning body? In situations where the community land trust is serving a development role, the CLT will often appear before the planning body as an applicant. In fact, the more active and sophisticated CLTs are some of the more frequent (and experienced) applicants to come before local commissions and boards.

CLTs often take on the thornier projects which for-profit developers usually avoid. As a result, CLT projects are likely to involve some of the more controversial applications to come before the local board. …

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