Community Land Trust


ABOVE: Robert Swann with members of New Communities, Inc. at planning meeting circa 1970

 

A New Land Tenure System

Since its founding the Schumacher Center for a New Economics has been committed to developing a new tenure system for the Natural Commons -- Earth, Air, Fire (the minerals), and Water. Our premise is that these Nature-given assets are our Common Wealth, needed by all. To keep them in private ownership gives an unfair advantage to the titleholder who can charge "rent" for their use – an "unearned increment," to use the phrase of Henry George. This economic advantage is one of the key reasons for inordinate disparities in wealth accumulation.

At the same time a regulation of use is necessary and a means for collecting income from that use is key to ensuring common benefit. Our approach has been to develop non-profit community land trusts to hold and manage the Natural Commons on behalf of the inhabitants of a particular place.

The Earth is in crisis due to an economic system that treats our Natural Commons as commodities to exploit rather than as “a community to which we belong,” (Leopold 1949). The reform of our property-tenure system is urgent– at stake are the future health of our ecosystem and a fair economy for all.

 

Background and History

A community land trust is a democratically-governed, regionally based, open membership organization. Through an inheritable and renewable long-term lease, the trust removes land from the speculative market and facilitates multiple uses such as workforce housing, village improvement, sustainable agriculture, and recreation. Individual leaseholders own the buildings and other improvements on the land created by their labor and investment, but do not own the land itself. Resale agreements on the buildings ensure that the land value of a site is not included in future sales, but rather held in perpetuity on behalf of the regional community. 

In 1967, Schumacher Center's founding president Robert Swann joined with lawyer Slater King, president of the Albany Movement in Georgia and civil rights activist, out of a common concern to achieve secure access to land for African-American farmers in the rural South.  They traveled to Israel to study the legal documents of the Jewish National Fund that separate ownership of land from the ownership of buildings on the land.

 

(LEFT: Slater King, Robert Swann, Marion King, Faye Bennett in Israel, 1968)

 

On returning they contracted to purchase a large farm and began a planning process with local residents to structure ownership and build a settlement of homes and farm buildings. Charles Sherrod, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and his wife Shirley Sherrod were part of that group.  New Communities, Inc., the first community land trust, was formed out of those planning meetings. The story of its creation is detailed in the 1972 publication, The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model for Land Tenure in America available in pdf form here. 

The movement has since grown to include over 250 community land trusts throughout the US and is widely understood as the best model for developing permanently affordable homeownership opportunities in regions where land prices are escalating.

 

Stanley with New Communities, Inc. livestock.

 

To learn more about New Communities, Inc., and for a chronology of the community land trust movement, visit www.cltroots.org.

 

 

Community Land Trust Program

The Community Land Trust Program is a multi-year education and outreach initiative advocating for adoption of the CLT model through a process of civic engagement, networking, needs assessment, grassroots organizing, project development, technical support and administrative oversight. A broader knowledgebase, model documents, best practices and other resources will support and empower community land trusts in the Berkshire region and nationally. 

The strategic goal of the program is to demonstrate how community ownership and control of land can be leveraged to create synergy between jobs and housing. Our core message is that the CLT approach to land use builds wealth for the whole community, supporting the workforce, increasing upward mobility and fostering economic resilience. As a citizen-led initiative, we can achieve goals like preserving Main Street for locally owned businesses, improving substandard housing, ensuring local farms produce food for local people using good farming practices, establishing sites for community supported industry, and developing strong neighborhoods for fulltime residents with local jobs. The benefit of the CLT democratic structure, strong legal mechanisms, resale formulas and program stewardship is permanent access with long-term affordability.

 

 

Reference Materials for
Creating a Community Land Trust

      

 

 

 

Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires and Berkshire Community Land Trust

The Schumacher Center for a New Economics has provided research and administrative support to the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires (CLTSB), founded in 1980, and its sister organization, Berkshire Community Land Trust, founded in 2015. CLTSB owns three tracts of land, including the site of the Schumacher Center's Library. CLTSB also holds Forest Row, a residential neighborhood of permanently affordable home ownership, and Indian Line Farm, the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in North America, where the lease recognizes the famers' equity investments in their home, farm buildings, and other site improvements including soil improvements. 

Still in their initial stage of collaboration, the strategic goal of these volunteer-led sister organizations is to demonstrate how community ownership and control of land can be leveraged to foster economic resilience. Working together they can achieve goals like preserving Main Street for locally owned businesses, ensuring that local farms produce food for local people using good farming practices, establishing sites for community supported industry, and developing strong neighborhoods for full-time residents with local jobs.

 

 

Indian Line Farm

Indian Line Farm, the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in North America, is a model for farmland preservation and conservation through a unique partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, and farmers Elizabeth Keen and Alexander Thorp. Addressing the critical connections between ecology, economy, and community, this model project is protecting habitat, preserving agricultural property, and keeping small-scale, organic farming viable.

 

 

Farmland Access

Seventy percent of US farmland is owned by those 65 years and older, with an estimated 400 million acres set to change hands in the next 29 years. It is critical that we identify ways to move land into the hands and care of next-generation farmers building resilient regional food economies. Those farmers should be able to capitalize a business, sustain a livelihood and build equity, while affording secure access to land. What might a sustainable agricultural community look like in the near future?