Community Land Trust Q & A: James Tracy interviews Jim Kelly

Community Land Trust Q & A: James Tracy interviews Jim Kelly

Community Land Trust Q & A


James Tracy interviews Jim Kelly

1) What is a Community Land Trust?

A community land trust (CLT) is a democratically controlled nonprofit organization that owns and controls land to make sure it is used for permanently affordable housng or other purposes that benefit the surrounding community.

2) Across the United States, what are communities using it for?

Creating and sustaining permanently affordable homes has been the dominant focus for Community Land Trusts in the United States.  CLTs offer a uniquely useful tool for bringing perpetually affordable homeownership to the single-family home.  Many communities dealing with chronic distortions in their real estate markets are looking to CLTs as a way of fostering economic diversity among their homeowners.

CLTs, however, are also being used to control and sustain community open space and sites for productive activity.  Urban farming and other sustainable businesses will be critically important for communities wrestling with chronic disinvestment that leads to vacant and abandoned parcels.  CLTs can offer tools for communities to manage very different kinds of market failures.

3) Some point to the experience of New York City to prove that cooperative housing can’t succeed in the long-term—that affordability and community control evaporates. How are CLT’s structured to address this?

Many housing cooperatives are started by low and moderate-income tenants strongly committed to the ideal of decent housing that is controlled by the
residents and forever affordable to people of limited means.   As residents come and go and surrounding property values appreciate, the commitment to affordability can give way to a desire to allow the apartments to be sold to the highest bidder.  Often the loans the coop received require them to stay affordable for a time, but once those restrictions expire, many affordable coops are free to convert to market-rate by a majority vote of people who will benefit financially from the conversion.  If a cooperative apartment building is developed on community land trust land, then the cooperative will be subject to a permanent commitment to the whole community to remain affordable forever.

4) Beyond affordable housing and community amenities, how does this differ from the traditional non-profit Community Development Corporation?

Community Land Trusts are oriented to the long-term good of the community. CLTs may become developers of housing or community-based business themselves, but their fundamental mission is to identify and protect the community’s long-term interest in sustainable use of the land.

5) Do CLT’s fit into a larger vision of land reform in the US?

Absolutely. For too long, the land in our cities, towns and rural areas have been divided almost exclusively between private, for-profit ownership and government control.  Land trusts create a third way in which community members--residents, small business owners and social entrepreneurs--can enjoy the land in a way that builds the community and allows them to be accountable to a community organization of which they are an important part. 


James Tracy is a long-time economic justice organizer in based in the SF Bay Area, and a co-editor of the forthcoming book Dispatches against Displacement for AK Press. Jim Kelly teaches law and directs the Community Development Clinic at the University of Baltimore.  He also works on laying the legal groundwork for community land trusts in Baltimore City.