From Model to Movement:

The City Connection

Municipal Support for CLTs

THE CITY CONNECTION: Image by Bonnie Acker (c) 2014Relations between municipal governments and neighborhood-based CLTs were quite stormy in the beginning.  As The Community Land Trust Handbook observed in 1982: Most interaction between CLTs and municipal officials has been marked by benign indifference, with neither party doing more than is minimally required to meet whatever legal obligations each might have with regard to the other.”  This was a mild characterization.  More often, the relationship between CLTs and municipal agencies was marked by mutual suspicion and outright conflict.  Indeed, in many urban neighborhoods the main impetus for starting a CLT was to protect the community against municipal priorities, projects, or plans.  The same people who were playing the lead role in organizing a new CLT had frequently spent years fighting City Hall.   Hostilities did not cease when the CLT came along.

There was a truce of sorts in several cities. Between 1984 and 1997, four CLTs became major recipients of municipal largess and began acting as regular partners of their city governments, instead of constant antagonists. These city-CLT partnerships, established in Burlington VT, Syracuse NY, Boston MA, and Albuquerque NM, were harbingers of a new direction in the CLTs’ development in the United States, initiating a new phase of growth.

Burlington Community Land Trust (Burlington VT)

The Burlington Community Land Trust (BCLT) – today named the Champlain Housing Trust – was created in 1984 through the BCLT-Mayor Bernie Sandersdirect involvement of municipal staff and with a $200,000 grant from the City of Burlington.  An activist administration, led by Mayor Bernie Sanders, had grown increasingly concerned about the rising cost of housing throughout the city and the BCLT logomounting threat of displacement in the low-income residential neighborhoods surrounding the Central Business District.  City officials in the Community and Economic Development Office joined with tenant organizers and neighborhood activists to found a new nonprofit believed to be capable of addressing both concerns, the BCLT.

Tim McKenzie -BCLT-Executive Director-leading an Old North End Tour-1990
Tim McKenzie -BCLT-Executive Director-leading an Old North End Tour-1990

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the BCLT enjoyed the steady support of a municipal government whose housing policy was founded on the twin pillars of encouraging the nonprofit production of affordable housing and ensuring the perpetual affordability of any housing produced using subsidies provided by the public.  Under Mayor Sanders, the BCLT became a favored recipient of Community Development Block Grant funds, as well as affordable units extracted from private developers.  Municipal BCLT-Mayor Peter Clavelle-at wallbreaking for Park Place rehabsupport for the BCLT expanded further under the next mayor, Peter Clavelle, as the administration directed HOME funds to BCLT projects and championed a series of municipal measures that helped to build the BCLT’s portfolio, including the enactment of inclusionary zoning and a housing replacement ordinance; and the capitalization of a housing trust fund with a preference for projects with lasting affordability.

VHCB logoThe BCLT and community land trusts throughout the state were given an extra boost in 1987 by the state’s creation of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB).  The enabling legislation that established this quasi-public entity contained a statutory priority for investing in projects that “prevent the loss of subsidized housing and will be of perpetual duration.

Time of Jubilee CLT/Jubilee Homes (Syracuse NY)

In Syracuse, municipal support for CLT development can be traced to the early 1980s when two associations of clergy, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Downtown Clergy, decided to become more actively involved in an impoverished inner-city section of southwest Syracuse.  This was a Jubilee Parkheavily blighted, thoroughly disinvested neighborhood.  Most of its housing was dilapidated and absentee-owned.  Few homeowners remained.  Crime was an everyday occurrence. The local park was a hangout for drug dealers and prostitutes (a park that was later transformed by the new CLT).

As the two ministerial associations were weighing what to do, they were approached by municipal officials and asked to partner with the city’s Community Development Department in developing a 12.5-acre parcel of vacant, city-owned land in the same neighborhood.  The ministers realized they would need a new organizational vehicle if they were to become involved in the Jubilee Homes Officeconstruction of affordable housing and other community development activities.  Taking the long view, they also anticipated a day when their own efforts might trigger a process of reinvestment and gentrification that could push housing costs beyond what the neighborhood’s current residents could afford.  The vehicle chosen by the clergy was a community land trust, Time of Jubilee, Inc.,which they formed in 1984.

The clergy proposed a partnership between the City of Syracuse and Time of Jubilee for the near-term development of the city-Walt Dixieowned site and for the long-term revitalization of southwest Syracuse.  To facilitate this partnership, a development corporation, Jubilee Homes of Syracuse Inc., was established in 1986, under the joint control of Time of Jubilee and the City of Syracuse.  Jubilee Homes would play the role of developer, constructing and marketing single-family homes to lower Celebration of 1st Jubilee Homesincome families that were heavily subsidized by grants from the City of Syracuse and New York State.  Once the houses were sold, the underlying land would be turned over to Time of Jubilee, which would serve as the long-term steward for the community’s land, the city’s subsidies, and the housing’s affordability.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (Boston MA)

Another CLT start-up during this period received significant Boston-DSNI logo copymunicipal support, Dudley Neighbors Inc. (DNI) in Boston.  DNI was established in 1989 as a corporate subsidiary of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Boston-DSNI logo copy(DSNI), a nonprofit that had been created five years earlier to spearhead community organizing and participatory planning in a multi-racial residential neighborhood in the heart of Roxbury.

DSNI/DNI was typical of many of the urban CLTs founded in the 1980s and early 1990s in espousing a dual commitment to community empowerment and community development. City government was the target of much of DSNI’s organizing in its early days.  Indeed, the Peter Medoff-DSNI's 1st executive directorimpetus for DSNI’s creation came from the neighborhood’s opposition to a top-down plan for the redevelopment of Roxbury that had been proposed by the City of Boston and local foundations. Nevertheless, over time, relations improved and the City gradually became a staunch supporter and a major funder of DSNI/DNI’s projects.

The most dramatic example of such municipal support came in 1988, with the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s decision to grant DNI the Boston-Dudley campaign button-Take a Standpower of eminent domain in the 60-acre Dudley Triangle, aiding in the assembly of smaller, fragmented parcels of land into larger developable sites for the neighborhood’s revitalization.  That area was established as a community land trust known as Dudley Neighbors, Inc. (DNI) to ensure community land ownership and permanent affordability for anything developed in the Triangle by DNI, using foundation grants or public funds.

Sawmill CLT logoSawmill Community Land Trust (Albuquerque NM)

The Sawmill Community Land Trust grew out of a long history of community organizing.  It was founded by the Sawmill Advisory Council (SAC), a grassroots group of neighborhood residents formed ten years earlier to stop pollution from a nearby particleboard factory.  In the early 1990s, Sawmill began to experience a wave of public and private investment, including construction of two museums, development of a commercial and retail plaza, conversion of two industrial sites into wholesale businesses, expansion of an hotel convention complex, construction of luxury condominiums, and the encroachment of law offices, salons, and upscale businesses into residential blocks once dominated by affordable, single-family houses. SAC’s focus quickly broadened, therefore, to encompass not only concerns about the quality of the neighborhood’s environment but also concerns about the affordability of the neighborhood’s housing.

SAC created its own community development corporation to exert a modicum of community control over the investment flowing into its neighborhood.  As the Sawmill CDC was undertaking its first project, however, the construction of seven units of infill housing, SAC learned that 27 acres of vacant land were up for sale near the same particleboard factory the community had been fighting for years.  Fearing that the factory would expand if it could acquire this parcel, SAC convinced the city to buy the land.

As the city plodded through a multi-year process of rezoning the site to allow for residential and commercial development, SAC’s leaders came Sawmill-Debbie O'Malley-First SCLT Executive Directorto believe that the only way the community could be absolutely sure that whatever was developed there would actually benefit long-time, lower-income residents was for the community itself to own the land, guide its development, and control its use.  A community land trust seemed the best way to secure such control.

Sawmill leadership team- 2000In 1997, the bylaws of the Sawmill CDC were amended to convert SAC into a community land trust.  After a participatory community process of preparing a master plan for the site’s development and after months of negotiations between SAC and city officials, the City of Albuquerque conveyed title to all 27 acres to the Sawmill CLT.

BAcker-The City ConnectionCity-CLT Partnerships

Opposition to local government remained a motivating factor in the formation of many CLTs throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  Especially in communities of color, CLTs continued to be initiated and erected as an institutional barrier against market pressures made worse by the action or indifference of City Hall.

Beginning in Burlington, Syracuse, Boston, and Albuquerque, however, and gathering steam during the years between 2000 and 2008, a counter-trend became evident.  CLTs were receiving financial support from municipal coffers, administrative support from municipal staff, and political support from municipal leaders.  CLTs were being enlisted to serve as the long-term stewards for affordable homes being constructed by private developers and sold at below-market prices under inclusionary zoning, incentive zoning, or transit-oriented development measures enacted by a city or county.

Cover of City-CLT PartnershipBy 2008, a Policy Focus Report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, entitled The City-CLT Partnership, was noting that “Over the past decade, growing numbers of cities and counties have chosen not only to support existing CLTs, but also to start new ones, actively guiding their development and sponsoring their affordable housing initiatives.”  The “benign indifference” that had once characterized the relationship between CLTs and local government was becoming a thing of the past – and helping CLTs to grow.


  • John Emmeus Davis, “Building the Progressive City,” Pp. 165-200 in in J.E. Davis (ed.), The Affordable City: Toward a Third Sector Housing Policy (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1994).
  • John Emmeus Davis and Rick Jacobus, The City-CLT Partnership: Municipal Support for Community Land Trusts (Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Policy Focus Report, 2008).
  • Rick Jacobus and Michael Brown, “City Hall Steps In: Local Governments Embrace Community Land Trusts,” Pp. 335 – 341 in John Emmeus Davis (ed.) The Community Land Trust Reader (Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2010).
  • Robert Hickey, The Role of Community and rusts in Fostering Equitable, Transit-oriented Development: Case Studies from Atlanta, Denver, and the Twin Cities  (Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Working Paper WP13RH1, 2013).
  • Boston-Cover of Streets of HopePeter Medoff and Holly Sklar, Streets of Hope (Boston: South End Press, 1994).
  • Julia Bartolf Milne. “Will Alternative Forms of Common-interest Communities Succeed with Municipal Involvement? A Study of Community Land Trusts and Limited Equity Cooperatives,” Real Estate Law Journal 38, 2009).
  • Brenda Torpy, “The Community Land Trust Solution: The Case of the Champlain Housing Trust.” Pp. 64-66 in Christopher Niedt and Mark Silver (eds.), Forging a New Housing Policy: Opportunity in the Wake of Crisis (National Center for Suburban Studies, Hofstra University, 2010).