How community land trusts can help stem affordable housing crisis

More than 225 community land trusts in US

The Solutionaries team spent the summer looking at some of the systemic ways in which the housing crisis might be stemmed. One fix we looked at both in Orlando and Detroit is a system known as a “community land trust.”
The Solutionaries team spent the summer looking at some of the systemic ways in which the housing crisis might be stemmed. One fix we looked at both in Orlando and Detroit is a system known as a “community land trust.”

No matter where you live in the U.S., it’s likely your community struggles with the issue of affordable housing.

The Solutionaries team spent the summer looking at some of the systemic ways in which the housing crisis might be stemmed. One fix we looked at both in Orlando and Detroit is a system known as a “community land trust.”

The Grounded Solutions Network describes CLTs as “nonprofit organizations governed by a board of CLT residents, community residents and public representatives that provide lasting community assets and shared equity homeownership opportunities for families and communities. CLTs develop rural and urban agriculture projects, commercial spaces to serve local communities, affordable rental and cooperative housing projects, and conserve land or urban green spaces.”

There are over 225 community land trusts in the U.S. In Detroit, where there are only a handful, Eric Williams, managing attorney of the Economic Equity Practice with the Detroit Justice Center, is working to help more organizations create these cooperatively run operations.

“I think community land trusts can stabilize neighborhoods, create real affordable housing and most importantly, give communities control over the type of development that happens within their borders,” Williams said.

If you’re just learning about CLTs, Williams believes it’s important to understand their historical roots.

“In the south, it was a way that Black farmers who were having trouble getting land, owning land, finding a place to sell their produce, it was a way that they addressed those issues. So, it actually has its roots in the civil rights movement,” Williams explained.

Though most CLTs today focus on housing, the first one in the country, established in Georgia in 1970, grew to help Black farmers sustain themselves in the face of discrimination and inequity.

New Communities Inc., founded in Albany, Georgia in 1969 was a 5,700-acre farm collective owned and run by Black farmers.

In an effort to assist African Americans living in segregated Southwest Georgia, eight individuals, including Charles Sherrod, traveled to Israel during the summer of 1968 to see how the Jewish National Fund leased land for various uses. Drawing on the Moshav communities, Sherrod and his colleagues proposed to create a cooperatively managed agricultural settlement that combined community ownership of land with individual ownership of houses – the pre-cursor of what came to be known as a “community land trust.” - New Communities Inc.