Through Shared Ownership, Community Land Trusts Can Help Retain Housing Affordability

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The prospect of homeownership remains out of reach for many Latinos as incomes fail to keep up with rising property values.

The community land trust model is a shared ownership model designed to protect people, neighborhoods, and businesses at risk of gentrification and displacement due to development and the upward pressure of urban land markets.

This model can be used for housing, small businesses, agriculture, and community resources.

There are roughly 277 community land trusts across the US, many addressing housing instability.

Community land trusts could play an important role in supporting economic recovery during and after COVID-19.

Unfair Urban Land Markets Leave Many Families Behind

Property rights in America were not created equal.

They have excluded Latinos, other people of color, and low-income populations from opportunity.

While many discriminatory policies and practices have been outlawed, some persist today, like single-family zoning, leaving behind segregated neighborhoods and an affordable housing crisis.

An extension of these unfair practices is the capitalist concept of viewing land as a piggy bank to accrue wealth.

Community land trust
Source: Urban Institute Initiative

Not only is this problematic in cities where land is scarce, particularly in cities facing an affordable housing crisis, but this reinforces a racial wealth gap.

“Market-based strategies, since their inception, have produced housing that is predominantly unaffordable and inequitable,” writes housing policy expert Hilary Botein in her review of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s book Race for Profit.

The problem has gotten worse since a small number of real estate actors have obtained a disproportionate amount of land, power, and wealth since the housing market crashed a decade ago.

Community leaders should consider shared ownership, an anti-capitalist concept, to address these issues.

Through shared ownership, community land trusts are one way communities can create permanent affordability.

What Is a Community Land Trust?

“Community land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit, community-based organizations tasked with holding land permanently ‘in trust’ for the benefit of people in the community,” according to the Houston Community Land Trust.

In the case of housing, CLTs acquire, own, and steward land to permanently secure and preserve affordable housing options for the common good.

CLTs are governed by a tri-part board made up of housing residents, community representatives, and members of the general public. This ensures direct, grassroots participation in decision-making.

A CLT acquires land through a one-time public or private investment.

The CLT then sells the home to a low-income buyer but retains the land.

“By separating the ownership of land and housing, this innovative approach prevents market factors from causing prices to rise significantly, and hence guarantees that housing will remain affordable for future generations,” according to Community Wealth.

Community Land Trust Infographic.
Community Land Trust Infographic. Source: Democracy Collaborative

While various public and private investments in the community, like parks and bike lanes, may increase the value of the property, the homeowner agrees to earn only modest equity so they can pass affordability on to the next buyer.

The CLT earns nothing.

This is what it means to hold land in trust.

Through shared ownership—often through 99-year leases—these trusts retain permanent affordability for the common good.

Although CLTs won’t solve the affordable housing crisis, they can help address historic inequities in housing policies, prevent displacement, and stabilize housing prices. Of course, communities still need to eliminate single-family zoning.

Atlanta Community Land Trust

Atlanta workers are struggling to pay rent. Roughly 50% of renters in the metro area pay more than 30% of their monthly income on rent, according to Enterprise.

Approved in 2005, the Atlanta BeltLine is one of the largest urban redevelopment programs in the U.S.

The massive project is expected to bring:

  • 22 miles of pedestrian-friendly rail transit
  • 33 miles of multi-use urban trails
  • 46 miles of improved streetscape
  • 1,100 acres of environmental clean-up
  • 1,300 acres of new greenspace
  • 5,600 units of affordable workforce housing
  • 30,000 permanent jobs
  • $10 billion in economic development

Many existing residents were worried that this investment would further drive up rents and put them at risk of displacement.

This is a common concern in communities across the country.

“Rapidly escalating land costs due to these major redevelopment projects and other public infrastructure investments are driving the urgency to acquire additional land as soon as possible in order to maintain deep and lasting housing affordability in the community, and to help mitigate displacement of low-income residents,” according to Enterprise.

That’s why in 2007, the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership began exploring CLTs to mitigate displacement in advance of the BeltLine.

They met with housing and community leaders and convened a CLT Development Committee in 2008.

In 2009, the Atlanta Land Trust was developed by more than 30 public, private, nonprofit and community organizations. The aim is to mitigate gentrification and displacement due to development along the Atlanta BeltLine and to ensure access to long-term housing affordability in Atlanta.

The Atlanta Land Trust began seeking funding and donations to secure property to achieve their mission.

In 2012, they secured their first three units and have continued to secure more housing and land since.

Community land trust
Source: Champlain Housing Trust Facebook

In July 2020, the Atlanta Land Trust received $895,000 over two years from The Kendeda Fund to purchase land for up to 50 permanently affordable housing units.

“Racial equity is at the forefront of how The Kendeda Fund invests in community-controlled solutions, which is why we are so proud to partner with the Atlanta Land Trust,” said Tene Traylor, a fund advisor for Kendeda’s Atlanta work, according to one source. “We see this project as a key contributor to housing stability for Atlanta’s black and brown neighborhoods that must remain vibrant cultural centers.”

The Future of Community Land Trusts

Communities don’t need to wait for massive redevelopment projects like Atlanta’s BeltLine to consider community land trusts.

In fact, community land trusts are happening more frequently across the country.

Learn more about the history of CLTs.

Learn more about how Denver and the Twin Cities are using community land trusts to promote equitable transit-oriented development.

Watch a video about how a community land trust helped transform an informal settlement around a polluted and flood prone river in San Juan, Puerto Rico into a sustainable community.

Think outside the capitalism-box to create something better for your community. Community Wealth has a lot of resources to get you started.

“Foundationally, local, state, and federal governments can support and expand community land trust activities by removing regulatory barriers,” said Gabriella Velasco, policy assistant in the Research to Action Lab at the Urban Institute. “Government housing policies should specifically encourage and prioritize lasting affordability by offering preference or greater funding to nonprofits utilizing shared equity models, including community land trusts.”

By The Numbers By The Numbers

56.9

percent

of Latinos are "housing cost burdened"

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