Seeding the First CLTs

EARLY HYBRIDS: Image by Bonnie Acker (c) 2014In 1972, when Bob Swann, Shimon Gottschalk, Erick Hansch, and Ted Webster published The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model for Land Tenure in America, they candidly described the CLT as “a somewhat hypothetical model which as of this writing exists only in the form of various prototypes.” This remained a fair characterization of nearly all the organizations that appeared in the 1970s and in the early years of the 1980s calling themselves a “community land trust.” This first generation of CLTs drew upon theories and practices that had been tested and refined in numerous leased-land experiments, both in other countries and in the United States. After 1972, moreover, community activists had a general guide for cultivating a CLT. But experimentation continued, as practitioners searched for the right combination of organizational and operational traits that would yield a disease-resistant model that could survive under different conditions, in different climates.

Photo from New CommunitiesSome did not survive. CLTs that depended on farming to pay their bills had to contend with the harsh realities and high risks of any agricultural enterprise, while sometimes operating in a hostile political environment as well. CLTs in urban areas had to contend with the high costs of acquiring land and rehabilitating buildings, while navigating their way through zoning, building, health, and fire codes that were a mystery to community activists who often knew little about developing and financing affordable housing.

Here and there, however, CLTs were created that were perfectly adapted to local conditions – or were simply lucky enough to be planted in places with leaders, resources, politics, and constituencies that were favorable to their growth. These CLTs not only survived. They also changed the model in significant ways, pointing it toward new features, applications, and sources of support. The Community Land Trust Handbook, published in 1982, helped to codify these innovations and to hasten their spread.

This chapter of Roots & Branches is a collection of historical materials about the generation of CLTs that came into existence between 1969 and 1985, a period stretching from incorporation of New Communities to the founding of the first urban CLTs, some of them created in opposition to municipal policies and some of them created with direct municipal support. These materials are catalogued under four headings: