Defining the 'Community' in Community Land Trusts

As community land trusts take root and expand, they face numerous questions on how to stay communally-focused while their geographic scope grows.

2 minute read

July 28, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By LM_Ortiz

Empty Homes

Drew Shetter / Shutterstock

"Community control" has as many meanings as "scale"—and as many meanings as "community." The baseline under it all is that properties have been permanently removed from the speculative market with their use to be determined for the good of a community, rather than for profit.

But that simple definition would also encompass publicly owned land and all nonprofit-owned land (not subject to Low Income Housing Tax Credit investor control). Typically, the intention of a CLT is for community control to go deeper than changing the name on the deed, aiming for something more like democratic control within their organization.

A classic CLT is a membership organization with members drawn from its service area. One-third of the board are CLT residents, elected by other CLT residents; one-third are community residents, elected by the members; with the remaining one-third being public representatives of other stakeholders, whether elected officials or professionals who support the mission. This is what makes a CLT different from a standard housing nonprofit, which may have a resident on the board, but rarely a majority, says Zach Murray, a CLT consultant who formerly worked for Grounded Solutions Network and the Oakland Community Land Trust (Oak CLT) in Oakland, California. "The democracy component is what separates the CLT from a traditional CDC, or even a housing authority," Murray says.

We’re creating space in the leadership of an organization for residents and for community members …. In housing, it’s really important that folks have a say in the communities that they live in. It’s different than just having a resident council or resident adviser group, actually having folks at the table to know the full extent of the operations of the organization.

When a CLT grows, the "community" in question can become more difficult to define. But to some extent it always was.

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