Creating community land trust

Forming a land trust

The community land trust (CLT) is a form of ownership where the land belongs to a community and individuals have ownership rights over their house and other improvements (structure) and user rights over the land. Resale of improvements is limited to no more than current replacement costs of buildings adjusted for deterioration, insuring that the land itself is never again commodified. The exclusion of escalating land prices from the cost of buildings keeps homes affordable to new generations. This model helps to remove land from the speculative market, thus making it more accessible to marginalized groups and to development which is collectively endorsed.


The Community Land Trust (CLT) concept developed by Schumacher Society's President, Robert Swann, offers a practical way to take land off the market and place it into a system of trusteeship on a region-by-region basis. It is a simple non profit-making organization, with membership open to any resident of a geographical region or bioregion. The purpose of a CLT is to create a democratic regional institution to hold land and to capture the speculative value of the land for the benefit of the community. The effect of a broad-based CLT is to provide more affordable access to land for housing, farming, small businesses and civic purposes.

A CLT acquires land by gift or purchase, then develops a land-use plan for the parcel, identifying which lands should remain forever wild and which could support appropriate development without damaging the overall environmental of the area. Part of this process is to determine--in conjunction with land use planners, local government, and the community at large--the most appropriate use or uses for a given parcel of land, be it a wildlife refuge, a group of houses, a managed woodlot, a commercial development, or vegetables grown for the local market. The land trust then leases the productive sites for the purposes determined. The lease runs ninety-nine years and is inheritable and renewable. The leaseholder owns the buildings and agricultural improvements on the land but not the land itself. At resale, the leaseholder is restricted to selling his or her buildings for their current replacement cost, excluding the land's market value from the transfer.

The Schumacher Society plans to implement an Olkhon Community Land Trust to hold all the productive lands in the region. The Olkhon region on the west bank of Lake Baikal in Siberia is home to 50,000 ethnic Buryats, traditionally shepherds but caught up in the dramatic changes sweeping the former Soviet Union. The Olkhon CLT will provide for regional ownership through a democratically-structure organization, will secure private-use rights for specific purposes, and will clarify ownership of buildings and land improvement. It will thus facilitate investment and necessary business development. The plan would (a) include a detailed land-use map for all the productive land; (b) provide leases to current users for development that is consistent with sound land stewardship; (c) provide bills of ownership for existing buildings and other improvements to the leaseholders; and (d) invite applications form residents to lease productive lands not currently in use. The urgency of this project is underscored by the ecological significance of Lake Baikal (holding one-fifth of the Earth's fresh water but under severe ecological threat from unsustainable practices), the still-strong roots of the Buryat in their traditional culture, and the important model that the CLT can provide for fair distribution of land within a framework of concern for the region's ecology and the important model that an Olkhon CLT can provide for the peaceful decentralization of a crumbling nation-state and to a capitalist world view where land is the property of the highest bidder.


Land trusts are excellent organizations for preserving open space, natural areas and agricultural lands. Their purposes and programmes can vary from community to community, but most land trusts can purchase and manage lands and educate their communities on issues of land preservation. As nonprofit organizations, land trusts can act more quickly, with greater flexibility, and with more resources than individual citizens or government entities.


Type Classification:
G: Very Specific strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 15: Life on Land