Community land trusts: a solution to the global housing crisis

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• The pandemic has reiterated the importance of adequate housing.

• The community land trust model expands access to housing, encourages community participation and protects public resources.

• In the model, the land is owned by the community, while the houses are owned by individuals.

The 193 member states of the United Nations recognize adequate housing as an inalienable human right, but an estimated 1.6 billion people still live in inadequate housing. In addition, Prindex research shows that nearly a billion people consider it “likely or very likely that they will be evicted from their land or property within the next five years.” Research suggests that this is largely due to market-based speculation and the lack of security of tenure.

The COVID-19 crisis has confirmed the paramount importance of housing in promoting healthy and prosperous lives. Now more than ever, we need to accelerate the implementation of community land ownership and resource management. The concept of community owned and managed land is not new; it has historical roots across the world, from Native American communities to pre-colonial Africa to the Mongol Empire. In the context of climate change and growing inequalities, practitioners should consider the community land trust (CLT) model as a viable solution to guarantee the right to housing and protect public resources.

The recently published book On common ground traces the history of the CLT to the civil rights movement in the United States when, in 1969, a group of African-American activists in Georgia secured land for their community in order to gain greater independence. This visionary group, the founders of New Communities Inc., determined that communal land ownership was a more secure form of tenure that, combined with individual home ownership, could provide low-income people with opportunities for financial security and income. cooperative management, while ensuring long-term housing affordability. This concept of community land on which individuals own their homes is at the heart of a CLT.

In a community land trust, the land is owned by a private, not-for-profit corporation that is collectively managed by residents, community stakeholders and experts. The detached homes built on this land are owned by residents who generate equity during their stay and, when they choose to move out, sell their home affordably to the next buyer. This price is determined by the CLT to maintain affordability, while giving the current resident a portion of the increase in the value of their home. This model effectively eliminates the risk of land speculation and foreclosure. In addition, CLTs allow residents to guide the development of their community while acting as stewards of common spaces and resources.

CLTs typically combine public land with detached houses

CLTs typically combine public land with detached houses

Today there are over 250 CLTs in the United States, 300 in the United Kingdom, and a growing number in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Below are several examples of how CLTs, and their local variations, are used to create affordable housing in Belgium, secure land tenure in Kenya, and protect natural resources in Honduras.

The Community Land Trust Brussels (CLTB) is developing permanently affordable housing on collectively managed land in the capital of Belgium. Established in 2012 in the midst of the affordable housing crisis (the price of housing in Brussels doubled from 2000 to 2010), the CLTB worked with representatives of the State to create the legal and financial frameworks necessary for the creation of a CLT . Since 2014, the CLTB has developed nearly 50 housing units with more than 100 others currently under construction. Arthur Cady, project manager at CLTB, underlines the social and economic advantages of the CLT model: “CLTs help strengthen the social cohesion of cities and communities by including low-income households who may be excluded from neighborhoods undergoing gentrification, while giving them a voice in the management of the city’s real estate and not leaving it in the hands of financial speculators. Eager to spread the CLT model across Europe, CLTB supports the Sustainable Housing for Inclusive and Cohesive Cities (SHICC) project, which provides financial and administrative support to create community land trusts in North West Europe.


In Kenya, the CLT model has gained ground as an effective tool for securing land tenure and quality housing in informal settlements. The Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP) uses community land titles to secure land tenure and give property rights to residents of informal communities in Nairobi. Peris Mang’ira, the national coordinator of KISIP, clarifies: “Community land tenure is particularly relevant for informal settlements in Kenya and around the world, especially where densities do not allow individual ownership. Mang’ira emphasizes the importance of communities working with civil society and government partners to adapt the CLT model to local policy and legal frameworks. In Nairobi, project managers integrated community participation throughout the process, from planning to implementation. Young people have participated in all land regularization processes, have made up the majority of the workforce hired for infrastructure construction and represent a significant portion of new residents. CLTs are being created in other informal settlements around the world, from Brazil to Bangladesh.

Cities represent the greatest achievements of humanity – and the greatest challenges. From inequalities to air pollution, poorly designed cities are under pressure, as 68% of humanity is expected to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects aimed at making cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which brings together brilliant ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and leading the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the fourth industrial revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

In Honduras, the CLT model is used to protect environmental resources of cultural, social and economic significance for low-income rural communities. Fundación Eco Verde Sostenible (FECOVESO) is a regional land trust that continuously purchases, manages and protects the watersheds that supply 16 villages in the mountains around Cortes. This model of community ownership ensures that land is not acquired by absent logging companies or commercial ranchers, industries that would pollute the water resources on which these communities depend. The organization also acts as a community development organization, helping to develop water supply systems, improve local schools, and lobby for legal protections for these isolated populations.


Conversations are taking place around the world on how to ‘build back better’ after the COVID-19 crisis. The notion of community land ownership must feature prominently in our discussions if we are to realize the promise of adequate housing and environmental conservation. in the sustainable development agenda for 2030. Peris Mang’ira reminds us of the positive impact of guaranteeing land rights to communities.[Community-based land ownership] has multiplier effects of improving livelihoods (income, housing, investments, health, employment and business opportunities) due to the stability that comes with security of tenure. With coordinated efforts between the public and private sectors and strong community participation, CLTs can be an effective tool to secure the right to adequate housing, empower residents to shape the future of their communities, and protect natural resources. .


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