A CLT is a nonprofit organization governed by a board of local residents that takes title to land, with the mission of ensuring that the community benefits. Buildings on the land–which can include housing as well as small businesses, community gardens, community centers, etc.–are individually owned or rented.

CLT residents (i.e. homeowners, tenants, business owners etc.) lease the land underneath their buildings through a 99-year, renewable ground lease. The ground lease lays out affordability restrictions and other terms for CLT properties, guaranteeing affordability and community benefit in perpetuity. This permanence helps keep multiple generations in their homes and communities, and also ensures that investments made in CLTs are not eventually lost to the market through expiring affordability terms.

The split ownership structure in the CLT model accomplishes two things: it takes land out of the speculative market and helps stabilize neighborhoods, and it also removes the cost of land for individual residents, which helps achieve affordability for their housing.

The East New York CLT Initiative is committed to deep and permanent affordability and seek to serve households at low-income levels poorly served by the private market and existing “affordability programs such as the Mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program.

CLTs were initially created as a tool for collective racial and economic justice in the Civil Rights Movement- to secure a material basis and organizational framework for self-determination. The first CLT, New Communities Inc., was established to help secure farmland- collectively- for black farmers who were being individually displaced.  See Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of a Beloved Community.

Since then, rural and urban communities have continued to use CLTs to secure and enact collective self-determination as part of broader racial and economic justice efforts, in all sorts of ways: by providing space and resources for housing, food, small businesses, arts and culture; and by serving as an organizational framework for communities to participate in the planning and decision-making around these spaces.

CLTs have proven to be particularly effective at stabilizing and empowering communities during moments of and in the wake of acute crisis. For example, CLTs protected residents from the 2008/2009 foreclosure crisis. How CLTS fared in the foreclosure crisis– links to two reports and one article published in 2010 and 2011 (all by Emily Thaden from the Grounded Solutions Network) examining community land trusts (CLTs) and foreclosures.

Two major findings from these studies are that: 1) Homes in community land trusts have lower rates of delinquency and foreclosure than homes with conventional mortgages; 2) The high prevalence of comprehensive stewardship practices—spanning education, prevention, and intervention activities—may help to explain the low rates of delinquencies and foreclosures and high cure rates in community land trusts.

There are over 200 CLTs across the United States in urban, suburban and rural areas. For us, the most effective CLTs are those that center racial and economic justice, do grassroots organizing, and make housing available to very low-income households. A few examples of successful CLTs are Cooper Square in NYC, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston, San Francisco CLT, TRUST South LA, and Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, Vermont.

CLTs can get land in variety of ways:

  • Government can gift the land
  • Private property owners can gift the land
  • Tax-delinquent or vacant properties, including partnerships with land banks
  • Bank foreclosures
  • Conventional property purchase; can also be combined with first rights of refusal
  • Eminent domain