Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit


Community Land Ownership: Community Land Trusts

Community land trusts can be helpful partners to cities in advancing affordable, sustainable, and resilient housing options and combating gentrification and displacement. Community land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit organizations designed to enable community controlSee footnote 1 and stewardship of land for uses that benefit the public.See footnote 2 CLTs have been particularly successful at preserving affordable housing by removing land from the speculative market.See footnote 3   They acquire land through purchase or donation and build new or preserve existing affordable housing or other community assets on the land. Then CLTs sell (or sometimes rents) the improvements, but retain title to the underlying land. The buyers of the structures are granted a lease to the land (typically for a term of 99 years) for a small annual fee (e.g., $1,200/yr.). And resale of the property is restricted using a resale restriction formula to ensure permanent affordability.

CLTs can also play important roles in supporting urban resilience and sustainability initiatives. They help to address the primary stressor that affects an individual’s resilience — safe and affordable housing. Additionally, many CLTs incorporate green design elements into their housing projects such as renewable energy, and energy and water efficiency improvements, which reduce the total cost of housing for residents.See footnote 4 CLTs can also play important land stewardship roles and support other publicly beneficial projects in neighborhoods, including community solar, green infrastructure for stormwater management, and projects that provide other community amenities such as parks, urban gardens, or community centers.

CLTs can also be a powerful tool for enhancing social cohesion and reducing economic inequality. They deliver important social benefits that are critical for community resilience, including enhancing community control over land-use decisions and creating shared community spaces and facilitating activities that build relationships among residents. They have also been highlighted by community-based organizations as a powerful tool for addressing gentrification and displacement. In some communities, CLTs are working to counteract gentrification by helping tenants threatened by displacement raise revenues needed to acquire and preserve properties for housing or commercial uses (see e.g., Oakland CLT). Where large scale redevelopment or resilience projects are contemplated that may increase property values and rents, cities can work with CLTs to proactively develop or preserve housing to reduce gentrification and displacement pressures (e.g., 11th Street Bridge Equitable Development Plan that recommended creation of the Douglass Community Land Trust).See footnote 5  By preventing displacement and preserving and enhancing social networks, CLTs build social cohesion in communities, which research has shown is a critical component of community resilience.See footnote 6

In many communities, CLTs are also working to enhance economic resilience for residents and the broader neighborhood. First, CLTs provide wealth-building opportunities for homebuyers and help to bridge the racial wealth gap, by giving lower income residents the opportunity to buy an affordable home and share in some of the equity generated by the appreciation in value of the home, with the remaining equity used by the CLT to maintain the property and build new CLT-owned housing. Additionally, CLTs enhance housing stability by providing financial counseling to help residents save a downpayment and secure mortgages needed to acquire a CLT-home, protecting residents from predatory lending and foreclosures, and helping residents finance maintenance and improvements to their homes. Many CLTs are also incorporating commercial, co-working, and artisan space to support local business and entrepreneurial activities among residents. In this way, CLTs have provided critical support to build up local economies by acquiring and preserving buildings housing local businesses and nonprofits.

Cities can support CLT work on affordable housing, resilience, and sustainability at all phases (from startup to long-term operations), including by:

  • Supporting CLT planning and business development processes;
  • Providing technical assistance and training;
  • Amending laws to ensure that the CLT-model is compatible with funding sources, regulatory programs, and housing policies (e.g., tax law, inclusionary zoning);See footnote 7
  • Creating preferences for CLTs in grant and loan programs, and providing direct cash subsidies or loan guarantees;
  • Streamlining administrative processes and providing regulatory concessions (e.g., waiving application and impact fees, relaxing zoning requirements);
  • Providing city-owned or tax-foreclosed land to CLTs through donations or below-market sales; and
  • Adjusting tax assessments for CLT-owned properties to ensure fairness for shared-equity homeowners.See footnote 8

Considerations of Community Land Trusts


  • CLTs are the most cost-effective way of ensuring permanent affordability of housing with the lowest public subsidy over the long term.
  • CLTs are supporting wealth-building and helping to close the racial-wealth gap in some communities by providing affordable homeownership opportunities for lower-income residents who receive some share of the appreciation of the property at sale, while paying affordability forward to the next buyer.
  • Some CLTs are also playing important economic development roles in communities by supporting existing businesses and creating new opportunities for local business enterprises, including artists and community-serving nonprofits.


  • CLTs often incorporate renewable energy and energy and water efficiency measures into housing projects to reduce total housing costs for residents and to reduce the environmental footprint of the city’s housing stock.
  • They can also play other roles in delivering important environmental benefits, such as preserving and restoring greenspace, and stewarding land for parks or community gardens, or by incorporating green infrastructure stormwater management practices into CLT-owned lands.


  • CLTs increase social cohesion by engaging residents in CLT governance and the management and maintenance of CLT-owned properties.
  • They can help stabilize neighborhoods and prevent displacement, supporting diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods and helping to house residents who provide important community services (e.g., emergency responders, teachers, social service providers)
  • CLTs can help to advance racial equity and remediate racist policies that limited homeownership for residents of color, such as redlining and exclusionary zoning, by enhancing community control and preserving and creating new affordable homeownership options in communities of color.See footnote 9 
  • CLTs can also be important city partners in engaging residents and enhancing community empowerment in land-use decisionmaking.
  • In many communities, CLTs are also playing “place-making” roles by providing or protecting important community assets (such as parks, green space, urban gardens, and community centers) and by helping to preserve and provide space for important local institutions that provide cultural or social services to the community (e.g., health care, job training, etc.).


  • CLTs can be administratively difficult to set up and often must navigate a patchwork of legal rules and requirements that vary by state.See footnote 10 
  • CLTs need significant start-up capital to be able to acquire and build their first projects and generate sufficient revenues to sustain long-term administration of the CLT in addition to building new affordable housing projects.
  • CLTs often have to patch together funding and financing from multiple sources to advance projects and to incorporate improvements that enhance the resilience and sustainability of the housing (e.g., renewable energy, green infrastructure), which can be technically difficult and time consuming.


  • CLTs do not need enabling legislation to operate in a state, however state enabling legislation can promote uniformity in structure and ease operation of CLTs by removing barriers within existing business association, property, and tax laws and by specifying affordability requirements and resale restrictions for CLT-owned housing.See footnote 11 
  • At the start-up phase, CLTs may need legal support to incorporate as a land trust, draw up legal agreements, and navigate state laws and regulations related to ground lease agreements, taxation of resale restricted housing, and other legal questions.
  • City-CLT partnerships often require close coordination between city agencies and CLTs on ground lease arrangements, loan terms, covenants and other agreements that may need to be harmonized to ensure consistency with city rules and regulations and to ensure that CLTs are eligible for local, state, and federal funding sources.See footnote 12 

Lessons Learned

  • Cities should consider donating or offering below-market sales of city-owned or tax-foreclosed lands to support CLT efforts to build community-led, sustainable, resilient, and affordable housing. Although this requires cities to forego some of the revenue they can generate through land sales to the highest bidder, public-private partnerships with CLTs will help to ensure that cities are putting their most valuable asset — land — to publicly beneficial uses that help cities advance their affordable housing, equity, sustainability, and resilience goals. Without access to low-cost land and other subsidies, it is difficult for CLTs to compete on the private market with for-profit developers and to offer homes at prices that lower income residents can afford. Land banks can also be used as a way to clear title to tax-foreclosed and underutilized properties and transfer title to CLTs to promote redevelopment of permanently affordable homes and other community-serving amenities. 
  • Cities can also provide start up funding, technical support, and staff to help establish CLTs and build their capacity to acquire properties, build affordable homes, craft legal documents (like groundleases and resale restriction formulas), and access sources of funding for resilience and sustainability features, in ways that are consistent with local, state, and federal funding requirements. 


Related Resources

Community Land = Community Resilience: How Community Land Trusts Can Support Urban Affordable Housing and Climate Initiatives

Housing insecurity and the impacts of climate change are two interrelated issues increasingly affecting cities across the United States. This report provides an overview of how community land trusts (CLTs) can present a solution to help cities mitigate both of these challenges by promoting community ownership and decisionmaking and providing permanently affordable and resilient housing. CLTs are nonprofit organizations with community-led governing structures that hold land in trust for the benefit of the community, often providing and preserving affordable housing, stewarding community amenities like parks and greenspace, and providing low-cost commercial properties that can support small businesses and economic resilience. Drawing from nine detailed case studies and other examples, the report presents legal and policy recommendations for how cities and states can better enable CLTs while integrating features like green infrastructure and renewable energy that promote urban resilience and sustainability initiatives. As new investments reach cities, including funding related to COVID-19 relief and recovery, there will be new opportunities to advance CLTs and other community-centered approaches to help the people most heavily impacted by housing insecurity and climate change.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston, Massachusetts

One of the first examples of a city-land trust partnership that was designed to address a range of community challenges was the Dudley Neighbors, Inc. Land Trust (DNI), which was created in the 1980’s in the Dudley Triangle Neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts as part of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. After years of disinvestment, the neighborhood was struggling with blight, dumping, and arson. DNI was started to promote economic development in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood and to empower community-control without displacing existing residents. DNI acquired 30 acres of land and constructed 225 units of affordable housing, a town common, parks, urban farms, a greenhouse, and a charter school. The land trust helps to build community resilience by reducing displacement pressure in a rapidly gentrifying city, by incorporating green design features, like renewable energy, in some of its developments, and by stewarding urban farms and parks that help to enhance food security, reduce urban heat islands, and manage stormwater runoff. Additionally, the CLT’s governing board helps to enhance social cohesion and racial equity by ensuring representation that reflects the neighborhood’s racial and ethnic diversity. The DNI example shows how cities can be constructive partners in helping CLTs access land and funding. DNI was granted eminent domain authority, which helped it negotiate the purchase of blighted and underutilized parcels in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood for redevelopment. Additionally, DNI receives significant financial support from the city and the state, including benefitting from a State-level Community Investment Tax Credit that provides incentives, in the form of a 50% tax credit, for private and corporate donors that give to “high-impact, community-led economic development initiatives,” like land trusts.

Case Study: Homestead Community Land Trust - King County, Washington

In Seattle and King County, the Homestead Community Land Trust (Homestead CLT) is helping to preserve existing and build new affordable housing that incorporates green design features. The CLT currently stewards 13 acres of land with more than 200 homes for low and middle income homeowners earning 80 percent or less of area median income (AMI). Recent projects have incorporated green design features to increase the sustainability of land trust homes. The CLT is currently building twelve “net-zero” energy townhomes in area Renton, WA near transit, which will reduce both energy and transit costs for homeowners and help the region meet greenhouse gas reduction goals. Homestead CLT helps to reduce displacement pressures in areas experiencing gentrification and also provides wealth-building opportunities for homeowners who share in the equity from CLT-owned properties. The CLT has supported affordable homeownership opportunities for 238 households across King County benefitting more than 160 children and over 57 percent of CLT homeowners are residents of color. Homestead CLT residents have an average AMI of 57 percent and 68 percent of residents are families.

Case Study: Irvine Community Land Trust - Irvine, California

The Irvine Community Land Trust (Irvine CLT) presents an example of a city established CLT designed to support infill development of sustainable, permanently affordable housing. The CLT’s developments meet the City’s green housing standards by incorporating green design features (like energy and water saving utilities, low-energy lighting, renewable energy power). Housing developments also incorporate other community amenities like parks, community space, and community gardens. Additionally, Irvine CLT is building housing to provide services to residents with special needs; for example, its Doria housing project reserved 10 percent of homes for people with a history of homelessness, including veterans and people with mental illnesses. This example also demonstrates how cities can play a foundational role and help CLTs build up a portfolio of housing. Irvine took a leadership role in establishing the Irvine CLT and supported initial CLT housing projects. The Mayor served as the CLT Board’s first chair, and the city has had tremendous success in producing and preserving affordable properties through direct transfer of property from the city’s Inclusionary Zoning requirements to the CLT’s portfolio. Since its initial establishment, the CLT has transitioned to an independent nonprofit, but the city’s early support was critical to building the capacity of the CLT to acquire lands and develop affordable housing projects. 


Case Study: Sawmill Community Land Trust - Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Sawmill Community Land Trust (Sawmill CLT) in Albuquerque, NM provides an example of how CLTs can support community redevelopment and reduce displacement of existing residents. The Sawmill CLT was formed out of a community-driven planning process to redevelop the Sawmill-Wells Park neighborhood (between Old Town and downtown Albuquerque). The neighborhood had become blighted due to underinvestment and pollution from industrial facilities. The CLT’s first project, called Arbolera de Vida (Orchard of Life), was developed on a 27-acre formerly contaminated industrial property that it acquired from the city and facilitated clean up and redevelopment to include permanently affordable housing and other community amenities. The CLT stewards over two-hundred affordable housing units that incorporate green design features and has several more projects in development. Its developments also incorporate other community assets, including parks, community gardens and centers, and an orchard that contribute to community resilience in the neighborhood by building social cohesion, and improving public health and food security. This case study provides an example of a city-CLT partnership that helped advance environmental justice, sustainability, and intergenerational equity goals through the development of affordable housing projects that address pollution, improve public health, and build bonds between neighbors.


Case Study: Oakland Community Land Trust - Oakland, California

The Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT), in Oakland, California, presents an example of how land trusts can help to reduce displacement pressures in economically gentrifying cities. It was created in 2009 to stabilize housing threatened with foreclosure as a result of the recession and mortgage crisis. Through mobilization of residents and a local community organization, Urban Strategies Council, the Oakland CLT was formed to acquire and rehabilitate properties in foreclosure. Since it was established, OakCLT has acquired and preserved approximately 50 units of housing and stewards multi-use and commercial properties that provide affordable rents for culturally important businesses and grassroots organizations. The City of Oakland has supported the CLTwith grant funding and loan financing, and Alameda County has sold tax-delinquent properties to the CLT to steward as community gardens. Oakland CLT’s goal is to provide permanently affordable housing, offer wealth-building homeownership opportunities for Oakland residents, and fight against displacement of existing residents in low-income communities of color.

Case Study: Florida Keys Community Land Trust

The Florida Keys Community Land Trust (CLT) demonstrates how land trusts can deliver resilient affordable housing options in disaster affected areas. The Florida Keys, a 125-mile long chain of islands off the southern tip of Florida in Monroe County, were devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Irma. Irma made landfall at Cudjoe Key as a Category 4 hurricane and its sustained winds of 132 mph and 8-foot storm surge devastated homes, businesses, and infrastructure in the Lower and Middle Keys. Twenty-five percent of the homes in the Florida Keys were damaged or destroyed by the storm, with disproportionate impacts on manufactured homes that made up the bulk of affordable housing in the County. In the aftermath of the storm, the Florida Keys CLT was established to acquire disaster-affected properties and build resilient workforce housing for middle and lower-income renters in the Keys. The CLT has acquired almost thirty lots, has completed construction of 4 homes, 5 additional homes are in development, and another 26 homes are in planning stages of development. The CLT is building energy efficient and resilient 2- and 3-bedroom cottages for families earning 80 percent or less area median income (AMI) and earning at least 70 percent of their income from work in Monroe County. The Cottages are built to withstand 200 mph winds and are elevated 11 feet, exceeding flood design standards required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Louisiana Land Trust Resettlement Projects

In Louisiana, a state-created land trust is supporting floodplain buyouts and developing new housing in "receiving communities" to help residents relocate out of vulnerable flood-prone areas. The Louisiana Land Trust (LLT) was created in 2005 to support buyouts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. After more recent flood events, LLT expanded its role to help communities relocate to safer, higher ground areas. LLT is helping to facilitate the resettlement of residents of the Pecan Acres subdivision in Pointe Coupee Parish and the Isle de Jean Charles community in Terrebonne Parish. The Pecan Acres subdivision is located in a lower-income neighborhood north of the City of New Roads, and has experienced repeated flooding 17 times over the past 20 years. LLT is working to help resettle approximately 40 households within the subdivision by acquiring their flood-prone properties, and supporting a development on higher ground where they can relocate. Isle de Jean Charles is a narrow island in South Terrebonne parish and is the home of the Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees and United Houma Nation tribes. The island has lost 98% of its land mass since 1955 and many residents have left as a result of increasing flooding, where encroaching seas often flood the only roadway connecting the island to the mainland. With funding from the National Disaster Resilience Competition, the state is working to support implementation of a tribal resettlement plan. LLT acquired the resettlement site, about 40 miles north of the island that will be redeveloped. Eligible and participating families and individuals will be offered properties on the site with a five-year forgivable mortgage. Both the Pecan Acres and Isle de Jean Charles resettlement developments will incorporate resilient and green design features (including elevation about FEMA minimum standards, LEED certified construction, green infrastructure, and community amenities like parks) and will enable the residents to relocate together, maintaining social bonds and cohesion. This example demonstrates how land trusts can support efforts to relocate whole communities, and support development of sustainable and resilient receiving communities.

Bristol Community Land Trust, United Kingdom

The Bristol Community Land Trust (Bristol CLT) operating in the City of Bristol, in the United Kingdom, presents an example of a CLT that is benefiting from low-cost transfer of city-owned surplus land and delivering sustainable, resilient, affordable housing options for lower-income residents. Bristol CLT is building shared-equity and affordable rental units that meet the highest standards of energy efficiency and incorporate renewable energy with back-up batteries, air-source heat pumps, shared green space, “car share,” and other environmental and social amenities. The city adopted a policy in 2020 that will help the CLT develop affordable housing by recognizing the social, environmental, and economic benefits delivered by a project as part of the “consideration” it receives in exchange for the transfer of the land. This policy will better enable Bristol CLT to access low-cost land by rewarding the unique values of CLT-housing, including engaging residents, building social cohesion, and delivering permanently affordable housing. It also demonstrates how cities can change policies related to how they dispose of surplus lands to ensure transfer to community-led organizations that will redevelop these properties for publicly beneficial uses, like affordable housing.

Community Land Trust Brussels, Belgium

The Brussels Community Land Trust (CLTB) focuses on providing affordable housing for the most at-risk populations in the capital region of Belgium, such as low-income workers, immigrants, single mothers, seniors and people with disabilities. CLTB focuses on developing multi-family apartment buildings; it has constructed three projects with 48 units and has seven other projects under construction or study that would deliver more than 120 units. It is building highly energy efficient “net zero” housing developments that conform to sustainability requirements established by the Brussels-Capital Region. Several CLTB projects are also incorporating other green design features, such as green roofs, public gardens, and other community spaces to enhance both the environmental and social benefits of the project. It is exploring opportunities to build local energy cooperatives, to leverage incentives to build housing powered by renewable energy sources, and to shift development patterns to enhance access to transit and shift mobility patterns to emphasize biking and walking. CLTB is also working to develop “social economy hubs” in its projects to provide business incubation opportunities for the neighborhood and to support local job creation. For example, one of their development sites had old warehouses and rather than tear those buildings down immediately, CLTB worked with residents to organize temporary uses on the site including pop-up restaurants, cooking classes, and incubation of a catering business.

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