What is a community land trust?

A community land trust (CLT) is a community-led, non-profit organization that owns land and puts it to use for community benefit. CLTs are committed to the long-term stewardship and permanent affordability of land, housing and other assets that contribute to a thriving community.

There are several key features that differentiate the CLT model:

  • social mission: CLT provides access to land, housing, and other community assets that are permanently affordable to persons of low or moderate income.
  • corporate status: The CLT is a private, non-profit corporation that is not sponsored by a for-profit corporation. Alternative structures may be used in Québec.
  • place-based: CLTs serve a defined geography, from a neighborhood to an entire region.
  • corporate membership: CLTs are member-based organizations. Membership is open to any adult resident of its service area.
  • board selection: Members nominate and elect the majority of the board directors.
  • board composition: CLT boards include a certain percentage of leaseholders, organizational members, and any other category of persons described in the by-laws of the organization.
  • permanent land ownership: CLTs never sell their land, protecting it from the private market. CLTs typically convey their lands under long-term leases. Alternatively, the CLT may access public lands through long-term ground leases.
  • perpetual affordability: CLTs have mechanisms to ensure access to its properties is permanently affordable. In home ownership programs, a CLT controls the resale through a contractual mechanism, or retains a preemptive option to purchase at a price determined by a formula.
  • Expansionist: CLTs are not focused on a single project or lot. They have the goal of expanding their land holdings and increasing the supply of affordable housing and community assets under their ownership.

How many community land trusts are in Canada?

There are roughly 40 emerging and established community land trusts across Canada. They are successfully stewarding a variety of housing types, including affordable home ownership, rentals, supportive housing, and cooperative housing. CLTs also steward non-residential assets such as community gardens, commercial spaces, and cultural amenities.

Where do CLTs originate?

Community land trust have history in the southern United States during the civil rights era.

The first community land trust was a Black-led organization developed to build long-term, economical independence for tenant farmers in Georgia. It’s first land acquisition was over 6,000 acres, representing the largest Black-owned land holding at the time.

Black communities in the US and Canada continue to take up CLTs as a means to build community wealth. See:

How do CLTs acquire land?

CLTs acquire land in a variety of ways.

  • New CLTs typically receive their first lands from the municipal government at below-market value or no-cost.
  • Alternatively, land can be purchased at market value through public funding, private donations, and/or fundraising.
  • Social housing owners can sell units to community land trusts.
  • Increasingly, CLTs are stewarding affordable units created through planning tools that induce for-profit developers to create affordable housing (e.g. inclusionary zoning, density bonuses).

How are CLTs funded?

Like most non-profits , CLTs require some sort of funding during their start-up phase.

CLTs typically have diverse steams of revenue and grants:

  • government grants related to housing, sustainability, community economic development, volunteer engagement, etc.
  • community bonds
  • traditional fundraising methods

As they acquire assets, CLTs are able to generate revenue from ground lease fees, rents, membership dues, and technical services. Any value generated is retained within the CLT to further its mission.

CLTs may be eligible for charitable status, which increases its fundraising abilities, but has implications for the organization’s possible operations.

How are CLTs different from non-profit housing providers?

CLTs offer several key differences.

  • Community Ownership. Community land trusts are member-based organizations, meaning that land is collectively owned. Decision making is in the hands of an elected board and broad membership that can include 100s of people. Members also engage in local advocacy and community-building activities.
  • Portfolio Diversity. CLTs may hold a variety of housing types beyond non-profit rentals, such as co-ops and affordable homeownership opportunities. Beyond housing, CLTs can and do steward commercial spaces, agricultural lands, cultural amenities, and so forth.
  • Operational flexibility. CLTs can do many things, as dictated by local context. While some many strictly tend to the physical condition of their assets, others might be more involved in the everyday operations of their properties.

These two types of organizations are not direct competitors. CLT often work together with non-profit housing operators through a partnership model, where a CLT leases property to a non-profit housing operator. While the CLT is focused on asset management (capital repairs, renewal, etc.) their partner can focus on the many facets of housing operation.

This is the nature of Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust’s partnership with YWCA Toronto.

How do I start a CLT in my community?

We are so glad you asked. Please see Starting a CLT.